The sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystem extends across a large portion of the Western United States. Affected by multiple stressors, including interactions among fire, exotic plant invasions, and human land uses, this ecosystem has experienced significant loss, fragmentation, and degradation of landscapes once dominated by sagebrush. In turn, wildlife populations have declined following these deleterious conditions. Federal, State, local, and Tribal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and industry have been galvanized by declining wildlife populations to implement management actions to confront the impacts of these stressors and insure the long-term availability of the sagebrush ecosystem for the broad range of uses critical to stakeholders in the Western United States.
The sagebrush ecosystem provides habitat for over 350 species of plants and animals that are dependent on sagebrush for all or part of their annual life history. The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) stands out as the iconic species. Sage-grouse populations occur in 11 States and require relatively large expanses of sagebrush-dominated habitat to meet all their seasonal habitat needs. Recent management actions to conserve and maintain the sagebrush ecosystem have focused on the protection and restoration of sage-grouse habitat. However, each of the 350 species has a unique life history and differing area requirements (for example, large areas for Mule deer [Odocoileus hemionus] and small areas for pygmy rabbit [Brachylagus idahoensis]), and some species, such as migratory birds, only rely the sagebrush ecosystem for part of the year (for example, Brewer’s sparrow [Spizella breweri]).
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a broad research program focused on the sagebrush ecosystem and these species and their response to stressors and management actions. The research is tailored specifically to inform and improve strategies for maintaining existing areas of intact sagebrush and restoring degraded landscapes. By providing the science to inform these strategies, the USGS is assisting land and resource managers at the Federal, State, Tribal, and local levels working towards sustainable wildlife populations and restored landscapes.
The USGS provides a foundation of scientific information for use in major land and resource management decisions in the sagebrush ecosystem. These have included such actions as the preclusion of the need to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act and recent revisions to Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service resource management plans. The USGS continues to build on that foundation to inform science-based decisions within the U.S. Department of the Interior and other Federal, State, and local agencies and their continued conservation, management, and restoration of the sagebrush ecosystem to help support local economies.