Beyond the Boundaries

Sagebrush Steppe

Help Us Protect the High Desert Sagebrush Corridor

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in eastern Oregon and Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northern Nevada were set aside in the 1930s to protect the rugged landscape and unique wildlife of the high desert. These neighboring refuges contain not only vast stretches of sagebrush grasslands, but also high cliffs, narrow gorges, lakes and springs. The varied habitats on nearly 1 million acres of refuge lands here shelter important populations of pronghorn antelope, mule deer, sage-grouse, pygmy rabbit, bighorn sheep, redband trout and other types of wildlife.

These two refuges form the heart of one of the largest and healthiest high-desert sagebrush ecosystems in the American West, a crucial and rapidly vanishing part of our natural history.

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Just to the north of both Hart and Sheldon, the historic Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is an oasis in this landscape – a wetlands complex that provides habitat for 320 bird species, including migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and summer populations of trumpeter swans and sandhill cranes. Together, Hart, Sheldon and Malheur protect large blocs of diverse habitat in the heart of the high-desert landscape.

Significance and Threats

A diverse group of animals inhabits Sheldon and Hart Mountain refuges. Most notable are the herds of pronghorn antelope. These denizens of the open range were nearly extinct 70 years ago, but their numbers have rebounded today thanks to the protections afforded by havens like these. The greater sage-grouse, a sagebrush-dependent bird that is a candidate for the Endangered Species list, lives in the rolling hills and valleys of this landscape.

Another important resident is the pygmy rabbit. These small rabbits have recently been listed as endangered due to habitat loss and fragmentation caused by agriculture, development and energy production. A wide variety of waterfowl can be found here, including Canada goose and white pelicans. Bighorn sheep live in the high, rocky sections of these refuges. Sheldon and Hart Mountain also harbor populations of mountain lions, bobcats, marmots and kangaroo rats, among other species.

The mature sagebrush on which many of these animals rely is an imperiled habitat in the American West. Decades of intensive cattle grazing and burgeoning populations of feral horses have literally nibbled away at the habitat diversity within this landscape. Fortunately, this can be remedied by changing grazing practices and reducing the density of cattle on this habitat. Habitat fragmentation by fences, roads and energy corridors also poses a threat to these creatures, especially to pronghorn, which are unable to jump over barriers.

Pronghorn | Gail Collins / USFWS
Herd of pronghorn | Gail Collins / USFWS

What NWRA is doing:

NWRA is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a range of other partners to safeguard the Sagebrush Steppe Corridor. Among other actions, we are:

  • Developing a vision and long-range conservation plan for protecting this landscape;
  • Fostering communication and cooperation among various federal and state agencies, local communities and associations, longtime ranchers and private landowners;
  • Working to strike a balance between continued ranching and restoring habitat for native wildlife.

What you can do to help?

By making a contribution to the National Wildlife Refuge Association you’ll enable our team to continue their work to protect and enhance the high desert sagebrush and other landscapes and wildlife across the country. Please consider making a donation today.

You can also join our Action Team and receive alerts about important actions you can take for the refuge system and the wildlife that live within it. Through the Action Network you will be notified about pending legislation in Congress and enabled to express your thoughts about these measures directly to your congressperson. Please join today and help us stand up for the refuges!

 

 

 

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