Sagebrush in the Great Basin Sagebrush ecosystem in Northeastern Nevada © Chip Carroon

Stories in Nevada

Conserving Sagebrush

Shaping the future of millions of acres of sage grouse habitat in Nevada.

The rolling hills of silver-green sagebrush that span Nevada's wide-open spaces between sharp purple peaks on the horizon are some of our state's most iconic landscapes. But if we don't take action now, these lands may not be able to support the wildlife—or the people and communities—that depend on them.

  • Nevada's sagebrush lands are home to an array of wildlife, including Greater sage-grouse, mule deer and pygmy rabbits
  • Healthy sagebrush systems are important to Nevada's economy, supporting activities communities rely on, like ranching and mining
  • People need sagebrush, too. These sprawling lands are important to the unique quality of life we enjoy in Nevada
  • From hikers to photographers to sportsmen, Nevada sagebrush lands offer you a chance to recharge and connect with nature

The Challenges We Face

Today the sagebrush ecosystems that once covered much of western North America have been significantly changed and fragmented by a wide array of threats, including invasive plants, catastrophic wildfire and incompatible land uses.

Greater sage-grouse that live in these habitats have been steadily declining too. A hundred years ago, millions of these iconic birds roamed much of the West, nesting and breeding in healthy sagebrush habitat. Changes have occurred more quickly over recent decades.

Now there are only about 200,000 birds left. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already decided sage-grouse warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act, but hasn't yet issued a final determination.

The vast majority of Nevada's sage-grouse habitat is on public lands. But many wet meadows critical to rearing of young chicks exist on private lands, making those habitats critically important to sage-grouse as well.

Greater Sage-Grouse in Montana Today there are only 200,000 Greater sage-grouse left. We're working to change that by improving the habitats they and Nevadans need. © Jeannie Stafford/USFS

Our Solutions

Though the challenges we face are daunting, there is hope. Sagebrush landscapes offer a conservation opportunity at an unprecedented scale.

Investing today, we can affect what happens to millions of acres of land for years to come. We have the chance to shape the future of not only these great landscapes, but also the future of how industries interact with the environment and how huge swathes of public lands are managed. 

Conservancy scientists in Nevada have developed an innovative planning tool called Sage-Grouse Conservation Forecasting. Using satellite imagery to create maps of important habitat and current conditions, we then employ predictive computer models that simulate the natural succession patterns of vegetation growth (e.g., young to mature plants), and evaluate what kinds of habitat improvements are likely to occur in response to restoration actions made in the near future.

Sage-Grouse Conservation Forecasting is part of a larger Conservancy toolbox, Development by Design, that identifies potential conflicts between development and conservation priorities, steers impacts away from areas of high conservation value, and identifies additional conservation actions to offset impacts where they do occur.

Sage-Grouse Conservation Forecasting can help land managers:

  • Make smart decisions by using science-based conservation experience and expertise
  • Assess current habitat conditions over large landscapes
  • Identify solutions with the biggest bang for each limited buck, making every dollar for conservation count
  • Establish measurable goals to track progress and inform next steps
  • Engage stakeholders by taking advantage of a collaborative, non-confrontational approach

Working together with public agencies that control more than 85% of these lands—and private landowners, nonprofits, companies and policymakers—we can develop strategies to restore our expansive, irreplaceable landscapes to a healthier condition for wildlife and for people.

We've already begun preparing assessments for nearly 2 million acres of public and private land managed by Barrick Gold and Newmont Mining Corporation. Together these companies manage lands that include sagebrush, wet meadows and streams that provide great opportunities for sage-grouse conservation.

Science As A Foundation

We've been employing unique science tools on Nevada landscapes for years. Sage-Grouse Conservation Forecasting was tailored from an earlier approach we've used across the state and beyond, including at:

  • Great Basin National Park: We created a plan with natural resource managers to outline affordable strategies to effectively conserve or restore every ecosystem in the park over the next 50 years.
  • Bodie Hills, California: We worked with the Bureau of Land Management to develop a plan to protect, restore and plan for climate change impacts to important habitat for the bi-state population of sage-grouse and other wildlife.
  • Hamlin Valley and Black Mountains, Utah: We're currently assessing management strategies for habitats supporting sage-grouse and the threatened Utah prairie dog.