Photo by Erich Dutchover
The vast, open sagebrush country of Nevada is often overlooked by travelers passing through. Even long-time residents take this drab, grey-green desert shrub for granted. The once ubiquitous sagebrush is vanishing in plain site, yet it rarely gets the attention of other imperiled landscapes. About half of the 500,000 square miles of sagebrush that once covered large expanses of North America still remains. Nevada loses an average of 200,000 acres of sagebrush every year to a combination of wildfire, invasive species, development and other factors.
The "sagebrush sea", as it is often referred to, is a seasonal or year-round home to some of our favorite species to pursue and observe, including mule deer, pronghorn, sage grouse, elk, bighorn sheep and chuckar. Lesser known species like the Brewer's sparrow, pygmy rabbit and the sage sparrow are sagebrush obligates, meaning they completely rely on sagebrush for survival.
Photo by Ace Hess
Large intact sagebrush habitats in Nevada also provide critical corridors, stopovers and winter range for migrating big game that acquire adequate nutrition by traveling long distances to seasonal habitats. Access to the best available food sources throughout the year is how species like mule deer thrive in arid landscapes.
The Nevada chapter of BHA would like to thank Governor Sisolak for signing Executive Order 2021-18 and recognizing the cultural, ecological and economic contributions that our vanishing sage brush communities provide to the state of Nevada. This order creates the Nevada Habitat Conservation Framework (HCF). A key component of the HCF directs NDOW to create a Sagebrush Habitat Plan, to be developed in coordination with the Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Program, as well as a Habitat Connectivity Plan. Multiple stakeholders including ranchers, conservationists, hunters and industry representatives will engage with the state to identify and assess the value of high-quality habitats. Though coordination with land management agencies and other interested parties, the state will use the HCF to prioritize landscapes, identify threats and develop strategies to restore and conserve at-risk wildlife habitats, particularly related to migration corridors.
Photo by Ace Hess
Additional components of the order direct the state to work with the BLM and FS to include recent spatial wildlife data when revising existing land use plans. Conservation of critical habitat and migration corridors will also be included in NDOT planning processes and policy.
Nevada's outdoor recreation economy accounts for $12.5 billion in consumer spending, supporting over 87,000 jobs and over $1 billion in tax revenue. Along with providing valuable wildlife habitat and limitless recreational opportunities, sagebrush ecosystems also sustain the culture, heritage and economies of many rural communities. Diverse, intact sagebrush dominated rangelands sustain ranching operations that rely on private and public lands to provide livestock forage. The long-term viability of these communities is directly related to the health and productivity of the surrounding environment.
“Nevada’s wild landscapes provide the clear air, clean water and open space that are integral to a healthy economy and our way of life,” Governor Sisolak said.“Whether it is mule deer or desert tortoises no animal thrives without a healthy ecosystem, and this executive order puts a crucial focus on the corridors through which wildlife migrate to survive.”