The sagebrush ecosystem in the United States once encompassed 150 million acres is now in danger of collapse, roughly half of the American West. Sagebrush has been cleared to provide a different forage for cattle. Read a scientific report of the Department of Agriculture, Pacific Northwest Research Station. Click the link, Sagebrush.
Wyoming Game and Fish report on sagebrush ecology states that sagebrush habitat and related plants harbor 87 mammal, 297 bird and 63 species of fish, reptile and amphibians. Click, Wyoming Game and Fish report.
Lewis noticed not just one but several species of sagebrush. He wrote, “[O]f this last the A[n]telope is very fond; they feed on it, and perfume the hair of their foreheads and necks with it by rubing against it.” From Sierra Club notes on Lewis and Clark expedition.
Excellent technical and scientific report on California’s sagebrush preservation effort for sagebrush (Artemisia arbusula). This is deep research, a long document with color photographs. We cattlemen need to look at this report for adaptation to native habitats.
An activist organization for saving the habitats, including sagebrush, WildEarth Guardians: A Force for Nature is based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Their effort at rehabilitating the sagebrush habitat is called Sagebrush Sea (please click to read about this subset of activism for the West).
A good summary quote from Management Considerations for Sagebrush (Artemisia) in the Western United States, Bureau of Land Management 2002. A selected literature summary of sagebrush management research (pdf file):
“Since settlement of the West began, there has been a substantial reduction in both the quantity and quality of sagebrush ecosystems. Westwide, sagebrush ecosystems and plant communities have been degraded or completely eliminated due to agricultural conversion, livestock grazing, invasions by exotic plants, oil and gas development, mining activities, fire management activities and policies, urban and suburban sprawl, water diversions, stream entrenchment, pinyon pine and juniper encroachment, offhighway vehicle activities, utility lines and corridors, arson, and altered wildfire cycles and fire behavior.
Many remaining sagebrush plant communities are at high risk of loss from wildfire as the result of weed infestations and unnatural fuels accumulations. As of 2000, within the Great Basin alone, three million acres of public land had become monocultures of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), an exotic annual that outcompetes most native plants and creates a high wildfire risk. Another 14 million acres are infested with cheatgrass to the extent that conversion to a cheatgrass monoculture is likely inevitable.
Fragmentation of sagebrush communities is an additional problem, even for those of higher quality (Hann et al. 1997, Wisdom et al. 2000). West (1999) estimates that about 25percent of the total sagebrush steppe has made the transition to annual grasslands. As devastating as the conversion to cheatgrass monocultures has been, these monocultures are not necessarily the end product facing land managers. Other exotic plants are invading cheatgrass-dominated communities and potentially degrading rangeland health even further (Hann et al. 1997), thus making the eventual restoration of sagebrush communities even more problematic.”