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 barren and dusty desert, healthy sagebrush habitats are actually a colorful and complex ecosystem where sagebrush grows in delicate balance with other shrubs, trees, bunchgrasses and wildflowers. The landscape is diverse with lakes, rivers, canyons, springs and wetlands, hot springs, alkali flats, salt flats, sand dunes, volcanic rock formations and mountain ranges.
The Sagebrush Sea supports an array of wildlife and plants. The landscape is vital habitat for the charismatic sage-grouse, the tiny pygmy rabbit, the fleet-footed pronghorn, and the Lahontan cutthroat trout. The ecosystem is also a migratory corridor for birds and important winter habitat for mule deer and elk. Hundreds of species are considered "of concern."
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.
About half of the Sagebrush Sea has 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, transmission, livestock grazing, mining, unnatural fire, invasive weeds, off-road vehicles, roads, fences, pipelines and utility corridors. Climate change is exacerbating these impacts. Much of the Sagebrush Sea is experiencing chronic drought. 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 the many other at-risk species in the Sagebrush Sea.
In Washington, DC, we are urging the Biden administration and Congressional representatives to strengthen conservation initiatives for the Sagebrush Sea and its denizens, and out west we are diligently working to reduce further disturbances to habitats.
Learn more about the Sagebrush Sea by viewing our Sagebrush Sea Storymap