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Conservation and restoration of the sagebrush biome

Date: April 10, 2017

Using a science-based framework to develop long-term strategic conservation actions


Mountain big sagebrush and bluebunch wheatgrass community in west-central Oregon. Photo by Kirk Davies
Mountain big sagebrush and bluebunch wheatgrass community in west-central Oregon. Photo by Kirk Davies
Land management agencies face the need for effective strategic conservation actions for the conservation and restoration of sagebrush ecosystems. For nearly a century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Research and Development (USDA-FS R&D) has studied sagebrush ecosystems and sagebrush obligate species such as sage-grouse with a focus on threats such as invasive annual grasses and wildfire, and management strategies, including conifer removal and restoration. In 2014, the USDA-FS R&D became part of a synergistic interagency collaboration for conservation and restoration of sagebrush ecosystems that began with development of two General Technical Reports published by the Rocky Mountain Research Station on using resilience and resistance concepts to manage threats to sagebrush ecosystems and sage-grouse. This collaboration was expanded with development of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy, and led to publication of RMRS-GTR-360: Science Framework for Conservation and Restoration of the Sagebrush Biome: Linking the Department of the Interior’s Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy to Long-Term Strategic Conservation Actions.


The Science Framework for Conservation and Restoration of the Sagebrush Biome (Science Framework) provides a strategic, multiscale approach for prioritizing areas for management and determining effective management strategies across the sagebrush biome. A geospatial process is used in which sagebrush ecosystem resilience to disturbance and resistance to nonnative, invasive plant species is linked to information on the habitat requirements of sagebrush obligate species. The predominant ecosystem and land use and development threats are assessed, and a habitat matrix is used to help decision makers evaluate risks and determine appropriate management strategies at regional and local scales. The Science Framework provides a new and valuable approach that helps to ensure conservation and restoration actions are implemented where they will have the greatest benefits.

RMRS Research Ecologist Jeanne Chambers is first author and led the team of scientists and managers who developed the Science Framework. The team included individuals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and Natural Resources and Conservation Service, U.S. Department of the Interior USGS, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Wyoming, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and individuals from the departments responsible for wildlife in the states of Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

Key Findings

  • Widespread concern about conservation of sagebrush ecosystems and sage-grouse creates expectations for natural resource agencies to demonstrate an ability to effectively manage sagebrush habitat and conserve sage-grouse across the 11 western states encompassed by the sagebrush biome.

  • The Science Framework provides an approach for maintaining or improving ecosystem services, such as water for consumer and agricultural use, forage for livestock, and hunting and recreational opportunities, that can help sustain local communities over time.

  • The Science Framework provides a valuable tool for prioritizing areas for management action using a geospatial approach that overlays resilience and resistance, species habitat information, and predominant threats.

  • The Science Framework is divided into four topic areas that can be used by the reader to gain an understanding of:

  1. the purpose and structure of the Science Framework,

  2. the biophysical characteristics of sagebrush ecosystems and threats to sagebrush ecosystems and Greater sage-grouse,

  3. the key concepts and approach used in the Science Framework to prioritize areas for management and develop effective management strategies, and 

  4. the available information for determining appropriate management treatments.

The following video provides a view of the biologcially rich and complex landscape of the sagebrush biome. 

Sagebrush Country from Forest Service on Vimeo.

Video provided by Audubon Rockies of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2017

Featured Publications

Chambers, Jeanne C. ; Beck, J.L. ; Bradford, J.B. ; Bybee, J. ; Campbell, S. ; Carlson, J. ; Christiansen, T.J. ; Clause, K.J. ; Collins, G. ; Crist, M.R. ; Dinkins, J.B. ; Doherty, K.E. ; Edwards, F. ; Espinosa, S. ; Griffin, K.A. ; Griffin, P. ; Haas, Jessica R. ; Hanser, S.E. ; Havlina, D.W. ; Henke, K.F. ; Hennig, J.D. ; Joyce, Linda A. ; Kilkenny, Francis F. ; Kulpa, S.M. ; Kurth, L.L. ; Maestas, J.D. ; Manning, M. ; Mayer, K.E. ; Mealor, B.A. ; McCarthy, C. ; Pellant, M. ; Perea, M.A. ; Prentice, K.L. ; Pyke, D.A. ; Wiechman, L.A. ; Wuenschel, A. , 2017
Chambers, Jeanne C. ; Maestas, Jeremy D. ; Pyke, David A. ; Boyd, Chad S. ; Pellant, Mike ; Wuenschel, Amarina , 2017
Maestas, Jeremy D. ; Campbell, Steven B. ; Chambers, Jeanne C. ; Pellant, Mike ; Miller, Richard F. , 2016
Chambers, Jeanne C. ; Beck, Jeffrey L. ; Campbell, Steve ; Carlson, John ; Christiansen, Thomas J. ; Clause, Karen J. ; Dinkins, Jonathan B. ; Doherty, Kevin E. ; Griffin, Kathleen A. ; Havlina, Douglas W. ; Henke, Kenneth F. ; Hennig, Jacob D. ; Kurth, Laurie L. ; Maestas, Jeremy D. ; Manning, Mary ; Mayer, Kenneth E. ; Mealor, Brian A. ; McCarthy, Clinton ; Perea, Marco A. ; Pyke, David A. , 2016
Chambers, Jeanne C. ; Pyke, David A. ; Maestas, Jeremy D. ; Pellant, Mike ; Boyd, Chad S. ; Campbell, Steven B. ; Espinosa, Shawn ; Havlina, Douglas W. ; Mayer, Kenneth E. ; Wuenschel, Amarina , 2014

Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
Jessica R. Haas, Linda A. Joyce, Francis F. Kilkenny, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station

Laurie L. Kurth, Mary Manning, Clinton McCarthy (retired), Amarina Wuenschel, USDA Forest Service
External Partners: 
Jeffrey L. Beck, Thomas J. Christiansen, Jonathan B. Dinkins, Jacob D. Hennig, Brian A. Mealor, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming

John B. Bradford, Steven E. Hanser, David A. Pyke, USDI U.S. Geological Survey

Jared Bybee, John Carlson, Michele R. Crist, Fred Edwards, Paul Griffin, Douglas W. Havlina, Kenneth F. Henke, Mike Pellant, Marco A. Perea, Karen L. Prentice, USDI Bureau of Land Management

Steve Campbell, Karen J. Clause, Jeremy D. Maestas, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Kevin E. Doherty, Sarah M. Kulpa, Lief A. Wiechman, USDI U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Shawn Espinosa, Nevada Department of Wildlife

Kathleen A. Griffin, Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Kenneth E. Mayer, Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies