The Refuge’s desert sagebrush-steppe ecosystem in Washoe and Humboldt Counties, Nevada and Lake County, Oregon. The Refuge was established in 1931 to: (1) provide habitat for pronghorn antelope, the primary species, and populations of native secondary species (e.g., mule deer, sage-grouse, and song birds) in such numbers as may be necessary to maintain a balanced wildlife population; (2) conserve listed endangered or threatened fish, wildlife, and plants; and (3) use as an inviolate migratory bird sanctuary.
The high desert is characterized by wide-open spaces and a variety of landforms. The two most common landforms include narrow canyons that empty into rolling valleys with no drainage outlets to the ocean, and broad flat tables that end abruptly in vertical cliffs. The elevations of these landforms range from a high of 7,294 feet on Catnip Mountain, to a low of approximately 4,200 feet on the northeastern boundary. The area generally decreases in altitude from west to east.
The extent of the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem has substantially declined across the landscape primarily as a result of habitat conversion, catastrophic wildfire, and introduced exotic species. The Refuge currently represents one of the last reasonably intact examples of a sagebrush-steppe ecosystem in the Great Basin. It provides a variety of critical habitats for a host of species endemic to sagebrush-steppe, including pronghorn antelope, mule deer, greater sage-grouse, pygmy rabbit, migratory birds, desert fishes, and a range of rare plants and invertebrates.