This site includes a series of native grass and hay meadows along the east toe of the Ruby Mountains and the western toe of the East Humboldt Range. The sites are well watered in most years by snowmelt from these adjacent ranges. The sites have been ranched for more than a century and it is the on-going ranching practices that have supported the remarkable bird community found at the site. Because of the nature of the runoff, timing of green-up, delayed haying, and the practice of moving stock out of the pastures at a time that corresponds with bird breeding season, grassland birds here pull off broods largely undisturbed.
Though not one of the larger populations in the state, Greater Sage-Grouse nonetheless constitute an important component of this site. The Ruby Valley population of Greater Sage-Grouse are estimated to number 1946-2335 birds using 45 active leks. Most (ca. 90%) of these leks lie within the boundary of this IBA.
According to Dr. Lew Oring, this site supports the highest density of breeding Long-billed Curlews yet recorded in North America. The research that Dr. Oring is conducting here is revealing many remarkable characteristics about this species. What makes this site unique and so well suited for the curlews is the way in which the ranches are managed. The extent of native hay meadows has likely increased due to the manipulation of water across the sites. Further, cattle graze these pastures in late fall and winter and are moved off during (bird) breeding season. The fields are wet enough during this time period that people rarely venture into them, thus leaving the birds largely undisturbed.
Another key element of this landscape is the Greater Sage-Grouse population. The population is estimated at 1946-2335 individuals using 45 leks. This represents about 3 percent of the state's sage grouse population. The boundaries of this IBA include ca. 90 percent of the leks identified for this population.
Coyotes have been found to have a significant impact on nesting success and chick survival to fledging; the single greatest source of mortality without doubt. Depending on the water year and bird species, they can reduce chick survival to zero. In most years water is adequate to provide hiding cover and the rate of fledging can be high. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is probing around the state for water to export to Las Vegas, though they have publicly stated no interest in Elko County. Other forces interested in privatizing and commercializing water rights in the state are active. These pressures force ranchers to use all of their allotted water, whether truly needed in any given year, or loose it.
Scattered portions of the uplands have been invaded by cheatgrass, and the expansion of this type is always a threat to habitat integrity. Native hay meadows and riparian areas are unlikely to be threatened by cheatgrass, given the abundance of water that appears to allow other grass and woody shrub/tree species to remain competative against cheatgrass.
Public lands appear to touch only slightly on the upper boundaries of this site, and also include a block of BLM administered lands on the northeast side. Key habitat is owned by several established ranches.
Key habitats include wet meadow and willow riparian stringers. These types are maintained by springs and by perennial and annual streams fed by snow pack in the Ruby and East Humboldt Mountains. Water on private lands is manipulated to flood irrigate native hay meadows, and sheet flow several inches deep is not unusual during good water years. Less well watered sites are dominated by montane shrublands and Great Basin Desert shrubs, principally sagebrush types.
The area is agricultural and economically relies on cattle production and the cultivation of native hay meadows. The area is fairly intensively grazed through late fall into early spring. Cattle are moved off in early spring and irrigation water combined with natural subirrigation used to grow native hay. Hay is cut once in late July/early August.