US Fish and Wildlife Details Massive Effort to Restore North America’s Largest Habitat

by Lauren Boisvert

In conservation news, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is doubling down on its efforts to protect and restore one of the largest North American habitats: sagebrush. Sagebrush country covers over 175 million acres of land across 13 states, about one-third of the continental United States. It provides a habitat for over 350 species, and the Service is determined to preserve the land.

During 2022’s Fiscal Year, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed. This awarded the Service $10 million per year over five years to work on restoring the sagebrush ecosystem. The funds will build on established efforts of the Service and its partners. The goal is to preserve the “biological, cultural, and economic resources” of the sagebrush area.

What the US Fish and Wildlife Service is Planning to Do With Its Funding

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, this money is going to work to “combat invasive grasses and wildfire, reduce encroaching conifers, safeguard precious water resources for neighboring communities and wildlife, and promote community and economic sustainability.”

The Sage-grouse Initiative estimates that, in the past 50 years, wildfire, drought, and human involvement destroyed half of the sagebrush area. The Sagebrush steppe is an amazing ecosystem. It survives on little rain, through harsh winters, and with few to no trees in the area. Sagebrush provides crucial habitats to so many species like sage-grouse, sage sparrow, pygmy rabbits, moose, bears, pronghorn, mule deer, and so many others.

The severe droughts have affected the sagebrush steppe even though sagebrush is incredibly resilient. The main damaging effect includes invasive grasses and shrubs growing after wildfires. Natural disasters like fires as well as urban expansion have definitely affected the sagebrush steppe. Along with 50% of the area being lost in the past five decades, 90% of the coastal scrubland in California has disappeared. Exactly why US Fish and Wildlife is determined to save the sagebrush steppe.

What Else is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Protecting Alongside Sagebrush Habitat?

  • Klamath Basin Restoration Program

The BIL will also distribute money to this initiative to restore an endangered sucker-fish species in the Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery. The Service will address water quality and quantity in the Basin. This should also restore salmon and waterfowl populations.

  • Delaware River Basin Restoration Program

The BIL will provide grants to state and local governments, non-profits, and higher education institutions in the Delaware River Basin aimed at habitat conservation. In partnership with the Service, the state has created the Delaware River Watershed Conservation Collaborative. This has been protecting the Basin since 2018. The aim is to build “green infrastructure” over a five-year period while also protecting the watershed.

  • Lake Tahoe restoration

This initiative will help control invasive species in the lake. This will improve the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout population and other native species. The Service is working in the interests of the Washoe Tribe and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. In addition, the initiative includes other federal and non-federal institutions in the area.

  • National Fish Passage Program

This is a program that restores aquatic habitats while also decreasing hazards to public health and safety. It reduces flood risks, builds up damaged infrastructure, and improves water transfer for irrigation. The program eventually boosts local economies by providing jobs and new construction.