On the edge of the Sagebrush Sea
Chase Gunnell / Mar 29, 2018 / Connecting Habitat, Okanogan Working for Wildlife, Sagelands, Wildlife Crossings
Perspectives after a trip to Eastern Washington’s sagelands
By Chase Gunnell, Communications Director
Vital habitat for sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and dozens of other bird and animal species, the Sagebrush Sea is a sprawling shrub-steppe ecosystem stretching from the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains in Montana and Wyoming through the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah north to eastern Washington and Oregon.
Anchored by sagebrush, a plant described as “old growth in miniature” due to it’s age and importance for a myriad of other species, this landscape is also home to vibrant communities, farming and ranching, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation.
At it’s northernmost extent in the Okanogan Country of Washington and extreme southern British Columbia, the Sagebrush Sea sprawls off the Waterville Plateau and narrows to a few finger valleys separating the North Cascades from the Okanogan Highlands and Greater Rocky Mountains.
Core winter range for mule deer and home to endangered grouse, pronghorn and other threatened species, development and highways bring additional fragmentation to this already bottlenecked landscape. And climate change puts increased importance on the ability of animals like Canada lynx to move through this “connected backbone”.
Through the Working for Wildlife Initiative and our new Sagelands Heritage Program, Conservation Northwest is working with partners including the Mule Deer Foundation, Colville Confederated Tribes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to preserve remaining habitat and working lands here, and to reconnect key corridors through wildlife crossings and other programs.
I was lucky to spend the last few days touring these sites with our Sagelands Program Lead Jay Kehne and videographer Ted Grudowski. On top of a chance to stretch my legs in one of my favorite parts of the Northwest, it was a neat reminder of how strategic investment in local places can yield big conservation results across enormous landscapes.
I’m looking forward to spending more time working on behalf of the people, wildlife and natural heritage of the Sagelands in the coming year as Conservation Northwest expands our work and partnerships in this amazing landscape.
Check out some more photos from my trip below!