Most greater sage-grouse habitat is in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California; however, central Washington boasts a few, glorious pockets of sagebrush steppe. Photo by Rod Gilbert.

Most greater sage-grouse habitat is in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California, but central Washington boasts a few, glorious examples. Photo of sagebrush steppe by Rod Gilbert.

Sagebrush Conservation Nursery Programs

Plants for Sagebrush Steppe Restoration

With funding support from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and program coordination from the Institute for Applied Ecology, Coyote Ridge Correction Center (CRCC) launched a new nursery program in 2015. The program grows sagebrush for restoration of greater sage-grouse habitat and to provide restoration ecology education and training to incarcerated men. Inmate crews, staff, and a horticultural educator will assist BLM in planting sagebrush each fall/early winter. All of the sagebrush plants grown at CRCC will be planted in central Washington on BLM land burned by severe wildfires.

The Sagebrush Steppe Conservation Nursery at CRCC is part of a multi-state restoration program including corrections center nurseries located in six western states. The effort is lead by the Institute for Applied Ecology, a founding partner of SPP-Oregon, with funding from the Bureau of Land Management.

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A conservation technician tends young sagebrush plants growing in the prison nursery. Photo by Jeff Clark, BLM.

At CRCC, staff and Superintendent Uttecht eagerly accepted the opportunity to host the program with very short notice. It was impressive how quickly they built a hoop house, hired an inmate crew, prepared containers for planting, and planted sagebrush seeds. Their effort is paying off—the first year was successful and the program expanded in 2016. Future plans include a sagebrush nursery at a second prison in Washington State.

Why grow sagebrush?

A female sage-grouse in prime habitat, next to a sagebrush plant. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS, from https://goo.gl/nf8uEt.

A female sage-grouse in prime habitat, next to a sagebrush plant. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS, from https://goo.gl/nf8uEt.

A male greater sage-grouse struts his stuff. Photo from BLM Oregon & Washington’s photostream, from https://goo.gl/FuFeCP.

A male greater sage-grouse struts his stuff. Photo from BLM Oregon & Washington’s photostream, from https://goo.gl/FuFeCP.

Fifty percent of the sagebrush steppe habitat in the United States has been lost to large scale fires, conversion to other land uses, invasive cheat grass, and noxious weeds. Sagebrush habitat provides shelter and food for the greater sage-grouse plus more than 350 species of plants and animals that depend on sagebrush ecosystems for all or some of their needs. The greater sage-grouse is the largest native grouse species in North America and is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. From a 5/28/15 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) News Release:

The West is rapidly changing – with increasingly intense wildfires, invasive   species and development altering the sagebrush landscape and threatening wildlife, ranching and our outdoor heritage,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “As land managers of two-thirds of greater sage-grouse habitat, we have a responsibility to take action that ensures a bright future for wildlife and a thriving western economy. Together with conservation efforts from states and private landowners, we are laying an important foundation to save the disappearing sagebrush landscape of the American West.

Throughout the region, land managers are investing in habitat restoration to increase the greater sage-grouse population. Their voluntary conservation efforts may be working; in September, 2015, the US Department of the Interior ruled that Endangered status was not necessary for the greater sage-grouse. They will re-asses in 2020.

Blogs on Sagebrush Conservation

Sagebrush in Prisons Project (2016)

Growing Sagebrush in Central Washington (2015)

This is an example of healthy sagebrush landscape in central Oregon. Photo by Joseph Weldon, Wildlife Biologist, BLM.

This is an example of healthy sagebrush landscape in central Oregon. Photo by Joseph Weldon, Wildlife Biologist, BLM.