The Sagebrush Sea is the seemingly endless sagebrush grasslands that cover the yawning basins and the broad plateaus of the Intermountain West.
While often portrayed as a hot, barren, dusty desert, healthy sagebrush habitats are, in fact, a colorful and complex ecosystem where sagebrush grows in delicate balance with other shrubs, trees, bunchgrasses and wildflowers. The landscape is replete with lakes, rivers, streams, springs and wetlands, hot springs, alkali flats, salt flats, sand dunes, volcanic rock formations and mountain ranges.
The Sagebrush Sea supports hundreds of species of fish and wildlife. The landscape is vital habitat for the charismatic sage-grouse, the tiny pygmy rabbit, the fleet-footed pronghorn, and the gorgeous Lahontan cutthroat trout. The ecosystem is also a migratory corridor for birds and important winter habitat for mule deer and elk.
At least 15 species of raptors use sagebrush habitat. Carnivores including weasels, badgers and cougars prowl the Sagebrush Sea, and wolves have even been seen traversing the landscape. Even the insects are diverse - more than 1,250 insect species have been identified on a single tract of sagebrush in Idaho.
Millions of acres of the Sagebrush Sea have been lost to agriculture and development. Cities and towns dot the region 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. 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.
Defenders is deeply engaged in this effort to conserve sagebrush habitat for sage-grouse and more than 350 other sensitive species in the Sagebrush Sea.
In Washington, DC, we are urging the Trump administration and Congressional representatives to strengthen conservation initiatives for sage-grouse, and out West we are diligently working to ensure that new land use and development won’t harm the species.
Defenders’ Renewable Energy and Wildlife program is leading the environmental community in assessing the impacts of planned transmission corridors on wildlife in the Sagebrush Sea, and is working with partners to identify appropriate sites for renewable energy development across the landscape.