Sagelands Heritage Program

Restoring and connecting Inland Northwest sagelands for wildlife and people

Our new Sagelands Heritage Program works to maintain, restore and connect shrub-steppe landscapes from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to south-central Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills for the good of both wildlife and people.

Hen sage grouse in Washington. Photo Ferdi Businger

Priority species include sage grouse, bighorn sheep, badgers, sharp-tailed grouse, mule deer and pygmy rabbits. Our work will also benefit pronghorn antelope as they are reintroduced to this landscape, as well as raptors, owls, Rocky Mountain elk and other species.

The main focus of our work is a “Connected Backbone” of important habitat linkages that runs north-south east of the Cascade Mountains, including places such as Okanagan Mountain, the Tunk Valley, the Waterville Plateau, Moses Coulee, the Colockum, Wenas and other state wildlife areas, and lands on the Colville and Yakama nations.

As we began the Sagelands Heritage Program (SHP) in 2017, initial work involved coordinating with the Arid Lands Initiative and other partners to create regional conservation and habitat connectivity resources to inform our planning. This synthesis of existing science identifies “pinch points” for maintaining and restoring connectivity that if lost impact the entire linkage. From this work we have developed program goals and specific projects.

Learn more in our April 2018 video: Connecting the Wild Northwest

Sagelands Program News

The Connected Backbone, a stretch of key north-south and east-west habitat running from the Okanagan Valley south into Oregon. Our program focus extends from Okanagan Mountain in B.C. to Horse Heaven Hills near Yakima. Map: Sonia Hall, SAH Ecological

Program Priorities

  1. Coordinate with partners to present an action plan for maintaining and restoring habitat connectivity that identifies the contribution and cumulative outcomes of ongoing efforts in the region, highlights gaps in conservation action, and prioritizes the “pinch points” and landscape scale measures for connectivity that if lost impact the entire linkage for wildlife and plant species.
  2. Serve as a catalyst for localized efforts for protection and restoration of a range of arid land species by securing linkages between habitat patches and core populations.
  3. Maintain, restore, and protect landscape scale linkages with attention to promoting climate corridors, preventing habitat damaging wildfires, and managing multiple ownership lands in a way that benefits habitat and wildlife.
  4. Add value to ongoing Arid Lands Initiative implementation efforts.
  5. Develop relationships and a record of success with landowners in this part of the state that could lead to broader scale cooperation in the future.
  6. Integrate First Nations and Tribal ecological, cultural and indigenous food knowledge and concerns with all efforts to maintain, restore, protect, and connect native habitat.

Check out our Google Flyover video for more program highlights:

Program Context

The northernmost extent of a “Sagebrush Sea” that extends from the Rocky Mountains to the Inland Northwest, our region’s arid steppe is often overlooked compared to mountains like the Cascades. But spend time in this country and you’ll find diverse wildlife, vibrant local communities, important agriculture, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Mule deer in Eastern Washingtons sagelands. Photo: Ferdi Businger

Because the ongoing Working for Wildlife Initiative, led by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and coordinated by Conservation Northwest, already exists within much of the north portion of our focal area, we have several projects underway that will run in parallel with our main SHP goals in the Okanogan Valley in the northern third of the Connected Backbone.

We’re also continuing to support the establishment of a South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, just over the U.S.-Canada border. At the top of the Connected Backbone and the very northern extent of the Sagebrush Sea, a new Canadian national park here would have tremendous benefits for wildlife habitat connectivity, outdoor recreation and local economies on both sides of the international border.

South and east of the Columbia River on the Waterville Plateau and around Moses Coulee, we’re supporting land conservation through Chelan-Douglas Land Trust and other partners, including Spiva Butte near Leahy Junction. This beautiful 1,300 acre property contains important winter cover for sharp-tailed grouse, sage-grouse leks and excellent habitat for a multitude of species. Permanently conserving this property will provide an important anchor point in the Connect Backbone in eastern Douglas County.

Pronghorn antelope in Wyoming. Photo: Chase Gunnell

Across the Columbia River between Wenatchee, Ellensburg and Yakima we are looking at key state and federal lands to support habitat connectivity, outdoor recreation, and other values, including the Colockum, L.T. Murray and Wenas state wildlife areas and the Yakima Firing Center.

We’re supporting the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Yakama Nation in efforts to implement House Bill 1353, legislation to reduce human-elk conflict near the Colockum Wildlife area and around I-90 between Ellensburg and Vantage, including strategies to reduce animal-vehicle collisions.

Finally but of great importance, in all this work we want to coordinate closely with the first peoples of these landscapes, integrating Colville Confederated Tribes, Yakama Nation, and B.C. First Nations indigenous plant, wildlife and habitat connectivity knowledge into the Sagelands Heritage Program. As we seek to build on our existing partnerships and create new connections to support the goals of these tribal nations, we’ll benefit from the guidance of Conservation Northwest boardmembers and Colville tribal members Amelia and Joaquin Marchand.

We’re also excited to support both the Colville and Yakama nations in their efforts to reintroduce native pronghorn antelope. Small herds have been returned to each nation’s reservation, spreading to surrounding areas. We’ll keep their needs in mind as we focus on habitat linkages, and hope our efforts will someday allow such restoration programs to expand to state and federal wildlife areas in Washington’s shrub-steppe.

As our Sagelands Heritage Program gains steam, we’re particularly excited to support both the Colville and Yakama nations in their efforts to reintroduce pronghorn antelope to Washington’s sagelands. This native species was missing for most of the 20th century, but small herds have recently been returned to each nation’s reservation, spreading to surrounding areas. We’ll keep their needs in mind as we focus on habitat linkages, and hope our efforts will someday allow pronghorn restoration programs to expand to state and federal wildlife areas in Washington’s shrub-steppe.

Your support is vital

Along the way, we plan to keep our membership and wider audiences aware of the importance of the work of our new Sagelands Heritage Program through presentations, blogs, short videos, news articles, and Google Flyover mapping products.

Washington’s sagelands are a special place—vital to people and dozens of native bird and wildlife species. Cognizant of the many entities that are already doing great work in these landscapes, we’re employing Conservation Northwest’s three decades of skill, leadership and expertise to complement and leverage current conservation efforts in the region.

These are exciting times for our organization to be involved with such important connectivity work, and with so many great partners to do it with! Join us as we embark on new efforts to protect, connect and restore Washington’s sagelands. Your support is vital for our success.

Sage brush and flowers in Moses Coulee, Eastern Washington. Washingtons sagelands are expansive, but fragmented. Our Sagelands Heritage Program works to to maintain, restore and connect shrub-steppe landscapes for the good of both wildlife and people. Photo: Chase Gunnell