Sagebrush, Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS
© Tom Koerner/USFWS

Sagebrush Sea

Threats to Sagebrush Sea

Unfortunately, much of the Sagebrush Sea suffers from a tragedy of the commons.

Accessible, irrigable, and rich in minerals, the Sagebrush Sea has been a working landscape since ranchers, miners and homesteaders first laid claim to it 200 years ago. Millions of acres have been lost to agriculture and development. Sagebrush steppes with the deepest soil were permanently converted to croplands. Cities and towns line the region’s waterways and super highways divide huge swaths of sagebrush habitat. 

Most of the remaining sagebrush habitat is fragmented and degraded by a host of land uses and related effects, including oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, mining, unnatural fire, invasive weeds, off-road vehicles, roads, fences, pipelines and utility corridors. Climate change will exacerbate these impacts and may cause sagebrush habitats to contract across the West. 

The cumulative effects of these threats can be deleterious to fish and wildlife, which have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  Indeed, less than five percent of the landscape receives some level of federal protection, making the Sagebrush Sea one of the least protected landscapes in the U.S.