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Latest: Sagebrush conservation efforts are failing

A new report says weeds and wildfire are major threats to sagebrush habitat.



Sagebrush once covered more than 500,000 square miles of the West. Today, it’s about half that, thanks to development, wildfire, invasive species and poorly managed grazing. The greater sage grouse has been vanishing along with its habitat, which supports some 350 other species, from sage thrashers and pygmy rabbits to sandhill cranes and elk. In response, federal, state and local agencies, tribes and private landowners have collaborated on plans to conserve sagebrush habitat and keep the grouse off the endangered species list (“Little Big Bird,” HCN, 8/17/15).



Now, a new report from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies says that sagebrush is rapidly losing ground to invasive plants and wildfire. More than 157,000 square miles are infested with exotics such as cheatgrass and medusahead, which crowd out native species and increase fire danger, and lack of funding hinders effective management as well as post-fire restoration. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is rewriting the collaborative plans meant to protect the grouse.