Sagebrush Lowlands

Short eared owl uses sagebrush lowlands

One of the primary values of this upland community is as dense nesting cover for ground-nesting birds, such as mallards, gadwalls, and short-eared owls.


Basin big sagebrush, Wyoming big sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and basin wildrye are dominant features in this habitat type. These habitats occur in upland areas on the valley floors of the Blitzen Valley and Double-O units. The fire frequency in these habitats ranges from 10 to 25 years.

Historically, this habitat was probably more abundant in the Blitzen Valley. As the development of the irrigation system, while the land was under private ownership, changed the water regime, it likely also changed the composition of plant communities on lower-elevation upland sites. However, most of the loss of upland habitat due to development of irrigation more likely occurred in the meadow areas dominated by creeping wildrye/Nevada bluegrass communities throughout the Blitzen River Valley. These communities have developed along the incised river and stream channels and along the edges of some refuge canals and dikes.

A primary value of this upland community is as dense nesting cover for ground-nesting birds, such as mallards, gadwalls, and short-eared owls. These birds primarily rely on tall grass and forb components. A variety of landbirds also breed here, including California quail, sage thrashers, Brewer’s sparrows, Brewer’s blackbirds, and western meadowlarks. Many mammalian species also use these communities, including American badgers, weasels, black-tailed jackrabbits, cottontails, Townsend’s and northern pocket gophers, least chipmunk, bushy-tailed and desert woodrats, northern grasshopper mouse, deer mouse, and sagebrush vole. These habitats are typical denning sites for coyotes and are also frequented by bobcats. They also get used by mule deer, pronghorn, and elk and provide good hiding cover for these species.

The primary management activities in these upland communities are weed control and prescribed burning to reinvigorate basin wildrye for dense nesting cover for ducks.