Greater Sage-Grouse - Sage-Steppe Ecosystem

Conserving America's Future

The Sage-steppe Ecosystem

Sagebrush is the most widespread vegetation in the intermountain lowlands of the western United States, but sagebrush is also one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America due to continued degradation and lack of protection.

Sagebrush is long-lived, with plants of some species surviving at least 150 years. Healthy sagebrush has plants of various age classes and a diverse understory of grasses and forbs that provide shelter and forage for a host of species from songbirds, pygmy rabbits, sagebrush lizards to iconic big game animals like mule deer, elk and pronghorn. While sagebrush may lack the wildlife diversity of a tropical rainforest, many species found in sagebrush, such as the Greater sage-grouse live nowhere else in the world.

North America’s vast “sagebrush sea” may appear to be monotonous and empty, but this arid intermountain landscape has supported humans since the first Native Americans colonized the continent more than 10,000 years ago. Sagebrush grasslands have been a cornerstone of the West’s ranching industry since its inception and many rural western communities rely on the seasonal economic boost provided by big-game hunters.

Sagebrush has resistance to environmental extremes, including drought, but once killed by fire or agricultural conversion, it can take decades to centuries for sagebrush to become reestablished. In addition to disturbance caused by residential development, oil and gas drilling and wind farms in the eastern half of its range, sagebrush can be negatively impacted by invasive plant species like juniper and cheatgrass in the western half of its range. Due to its low resistance to fire and long recovery times, the sagebrush ecosystem is particularly susceptible to more frequent fires caused by fire-loving weeds like cheatgrass.

Additional Resources

Greater Sage-Grouse.  Credit: USFWS.

Why care about sagebrush?

Sagebrush country may look empty, but it's home to important wildlife and other natural resources. Learn more.

Greater Sage-Grouse distribution map. Credit: USFWS.


Learn more about the new Sagebrush Ecosystem Curriculum project.

Greater Sage-Grouse in field. Credit: USFWS.

Conservation Partners

Sage-grouse conservation happens on the ground. Learn more about what our partners are doing here.