Sagebrush-dominated lands cover much of western North America, including portions of eastern Oregon and Washington. The structure and characteristics of sagebrush communities vary widely, but vegetation is typically a mix of grasses, forbs, and shrubs adapted to dry conditions. These hearty plants provide essential habitat for a diverse array of wildlife, from the iconic Greater Sage-Grouse to the pygmy rabbit.
Despite its prevalence, sagebrush habitat is fragile and has decreased by about 50 percent since European settlement. Widespread habitat loss and degradation are the result of invasive species, wildfires, overgrazing, encroachment by woody plants, and conversion to agriculture and development, among other threats. It’s not surprising, then, that many sagebrush-dependent species have experienced contemporary range reductions, population declines, and local extirpations.
While there are many approaches to wildlife conservation, the Oregon-Washington Partners in Flight Conservation Strategy for Landbirds in the Columbia Plateau of Eastern Oregon and Washington emphasizes “focal species” and draws attention to habitat attributes most important in a functioning shrub-steppe ecosystem. Focal species are highly associated with particular habitat features or conditions. By managing for these focal species, other species with similar habitat needs may also be conserved.
- The Oregon-Washington Partners in Flight focal species for shrub-steppe habitat are: Grasshopper Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, Burrowing Owl, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Sage-Grouse, Sagebrush Sparrow (formerly Sage Sparrow), Brewer’s Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, Lark Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, and Ferruginous Hawk.
Read more about conservation and management issues affecting sagebrush habitat in Oregon and Washington:
- Washington State Wildlife Action Plan – Habitats of Greatest Conservation Need
- Oregon Conservation Strategy – Sagebrush Habitats
Citizen Science in the Sagebrush! Help monitor sagebrush birds in Washington; details here:
eBird Northwest articles on sagebrush habitat and associated focal species: