(Denver—Feb. 8, 2024)—A coalition of national sportsmen and conservation organizations today praised an announcement by the Department of the Interior (DOI) of focused, collaborative investments in the millions of acres of sagebrush ecosystems across the American West. The “Sagebrush Collaborative Restoration Landscapes” initiative will direct funding to ecologically valuable and vulnerable locations within the sagebrush biome for intensive conservation and restoration. This announcement builds on the Department’s Restoration and Resilience Framework which commits to conservation initiatives that will help to address climate change impacts, restore healthy lands and waters and enhance communities' quality of life.
Referred to as the “sagebrush sea,” these wide-open lands comprise the single largest ecosystem in the continental United States, stretching from the Dakotas to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. It is also one of the most challenged, losing an estimated 1.3 million acres of functioning habitat a year to development, degradation and encroachment by invasive species. In the past 30 years, some 14 million acres have been lost. The ecosystem is home to iconic species including golden eagles, greater sage-grouse, mule deer, pronghorn, and pygmy rabbits. These lands also support livelihoods and deeply held traditions.
“This is wonderful news for a landscape that is so ecologically important and yet obviously struggling,” said Sara Brodnax, director of public lands policy at the National Audubon Society. “The Administration’s show of financial support dedicated to this ecosystem is an important addition to years of work by so many entities, including states, Tribes, and private landowners. We are hopeful that these sorts of actions will ensure that iconic species like Golden Eagles will still be soaring in the skies above for future generations to enjoy.”
“The Nature Conservancy praises the Department of the Interior for taking this critical step to protect large and intact landscapes rich in biodiversity across this vast biome,” said Matt Cahill, Sagebrush Sea Program director for the Nature Conservancy. “TNC works across the Sagebrush Sea to address rapidly escalating wildfires, exotic annual grass infestations, prolonged droughts, and climate change. These new designations cover ‘the best of the best’ of the biome where sage-grouse still thrive, endemic fish spawn, and pronghorn migrations pass for hundreds of miles.”
“As hunters continue to see and feel the loss of sagebrush habitat, this announcement by the Department of the Interior is an encouraging commitment to conserve and restore one of North America’s most imperiled ecosystems,” said Kaden McArthur with Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Improving the quality of sagebrush habitat will improve the future for upland and big game species alike, which depend on these lands across the West.”
“The Department of Interior’s plan to conserve large, intact landscapes in the West is good news for the more than 350 species of wildlife and plants that depend on the sagebrush steppe to live. We know that this ecosystem has been stressed in recent years from invasive species, drought, catastrophic wildfire, and development,” said David Willms, associate vice president of public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “We look forward to working with the federal government, state agencies, Tribal and local communities, ranchers, and other stakeholders to put today’s announcement into action to conserve and restore sagebrush country for the benefit of wildlife and rural economies.”