The Importance of Sagebrush Habitat
Sagebrush habitat is a unique and critical ecosystem found throughout the western United States. Sagebrush is a woody shrub that plays a vital role in the survival of a wide variety of wildlife and plants. Despite its importance, sagebrush habitat is currently threatened by a variety of factors, including human activities, invasive species, and climate change.
Sagebrush is known as a keystone species. This means that it plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance and health of the ecosystem. Sagebrush provides protection from erosion from wind and rain. Establishing new growth can take between 20 and 100 years, which means the loss of this shrubby plant is highly impactful.
Home to a variety of wildlife
Sagebrush habitat is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including iconic species such as pronghorn, mule deer, and sage grouse. These, and other animals, rely on the sagebrush ecosystem for food, shelter, and breeding habitat. It is also an important winter range for big game species, allowing them to survive the harsh winter months.
Supports important industries
Sagebrush habitat is not only important for wildlife, but also supports industries important to the area. This land provides grazing land for livestock, when managed correctly, can be beneficial to the landscape. The land that sagebrush grows also supports many energy developments like oil, gas, and wind production. The scenic views of the landscape also provide great opportunities for housing as well.
Factors threatening sagebrush
The involvement of human activities like agriculture, energy development, and housing has increased the threat to the sagebrush ecosystem. Invasive species, like cheatgrass, can outcompete sagebrush and prevent establishment of new growth. Currently, sagebrush has been lost at a rate of 1.3 million acres each year. Couple this loss with a changing climate and the effects can be devastating.
Conservation efforts are critical
Conservation efforts have been critical to protecting and preserving sagebrush habitat in the U.S. These efforts have been led by various conservation organizations like Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Pheasants Forever, and the North American Grouse Partnership. These organizations have worked with landowners, state agencies, and industry through the Sage Grouse Initiative to conserve wildlife through a common sense approach. While these efforts have helped, a greater and larger effort will need to be made in the future.
You can learn more about the sagebrush ecosystem and TRCP, listen to Ep 148: The Importance of Sagebrush Habitat with Whit Fosburgh on the Conservation Unfiltered podcast.