Working Lands

Sagebrush Ecosystem

Gunnison Sage-Grouses. Photo: Gary Kramer/USFWS

The Bottom Line

Conservation impact on 80 million U.S. acres; improved outcomes for three priority bird species.


The unbroken sagebrush country that provides crucial habitat for the Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse is one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes of the Rocky Mountain West. The sage encompasses approximately 120 million acres and stretches from eastern Washington to central Wyoming and down to northern New Mexico and Arizona. It is home to a plethora of species, including 297 species of birds, 87 species of mammals, and 63 fish species. This fertile but fragile landscape has been fragmented, degraded, and, in some areas, completely eliminated by many different human activities. By some accounts, the sagebrush steppe habitat has declined by 50 percent from its levels just a century ago.

Today the biggest threat to the sage ecosystem is energy development. That’s why the Audubon Rockies program, working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), state governments, and other stakeholders, has spurred the adoption of a game-changing strategy that balances wildlife protection with our nation’s need for energy. This science-based approach identifies the best places for wind farms and limits the footprint of oil and gas extraction while protecting core habitat areas for sage-grouse. As a result, 15 million acres of sage-grouse habitat in Wyoming is now protected, and the BLM has expanded this approach into Nevada, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas. Audubon’s pioneering work in one flyway can lead to successes in others; this strategy also holds great promise farther south for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and the shortgrass prairie.

Theory of Victory: By focusing on the threatened conservation status of three species (Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, and Lesser Prairie-Chicken), Audubon will ensure a sustainable future for the sage and prairie ecosystems and their wildlife.