Protecting Desert Fish and Wildlife

Devlin Holloway

Oregon’s high desert is teeming with a diversity of fish and wildlife, including species that are found nowhere else on the planet.

Living in high desert sagebrush steppe, with all its variations in temperature and precipitation, requires unique adaptations of its inhabitants. And yet, a surprising diversity of plants and animals make their home in Oregon’s Sagebrush Sea, including a number of species that literally would not exist if not for these sagebrush shrublands. Known as “sagebrush obligates” and “sagebrush-dependent species,” they include a number of species you probably know — greater sage-grouse, pygmy rabbit and pronghorn — and a few you may be less familiar with — loggerhead shrike, kit fox and sagebrush lizard.

The sage-grouse, pygmy rabbit and pronghorn antelope all thrive in a healthy sagebrush steppe ecosystem. This is especially true in the Greater-Hart Sheldon region which holds some of the most important sage-grouse habitat in the state and the Western U.S., a critically important pronghorn migration corridor, and core habitat for the imperiled pygmy rabbit.

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Wind and Birds in Quaking Aspen

Wind and Birds in Quaking Aspen

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Mary McCord, ONDA Volunteer

Mary McCord, ONDA Volunteer

“I find enjoyment in the peaceful wide open spaces, geology, and rich history of Oregon’s high desert,” says Mary. Reflecting on volunteering, she continues, “If you have the ability and desire, it’s important to do something to contribute. It doesn’t have to be big, because every little bit helps.”

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John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

Restoration is hard slow work. It takes hold, or it doesn’t, in fits and starts. The immensity of the need can be discouraging, but we must carry on. I am so thankful ONDA carries on.

Greater sage-grouse

Shannon Phifer

Pronghorn

Devlin Holloway

Pygmy rabbit

John Marshall

Sagebrush lizard

Ben Lowe

Loggerhead shrike

Richard Eltrich

Eastern Oregon’s lakes, rivers, and streams attract tens of thousands of birds on their seasonal migrations, including sandhill crane, Wilson’s phalarope, eared grebe and tundra swan, while native fish, such as Chinook salmon, steelhead, and redband and bull trout flourish in Oregon’s desert rivers. Lake Abert — the Pacific Northwest’s only hypersaline lake —provides irreplaceable habitat to hundreds of thousands of migrating waterbirds annually along the Pacific Flyway, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hosts hundreds of wildlife species, and the federally-threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout seek refuge in McDermitt Creek in the Trout Creek Mountains.

Greater sandhill crane

Tom Koerner

Wilson's phalarope

Nick Thompson

Eared grebe

Mathijs van Lisdonk

Redband trout

Fish Eye Guy Photography

Bull trout

Joel Sartore/Wade Fredenberg

These fragile desert lands and rivers are threatened by changes in climate, improper livestock grazing, off-road vehicle use, mining, and road building. Loss of habitat and other human activities have pushed many of these desert species toward extinction.

Both the federal government and the state of Oregon are in the midst of expansive new planning processes to identify key wildlife habitats and migration corridors and preserve sagebrush steppe in the face of climate change and other threats. The next two years will offer an unprecedented opportunity to ensure a future for these magnificent fish, wildlife and plants and the habitats they need in Oregon’s outback. Throughout these processes ONDA will advocate for wildlife protections along with improved land management, preservation of wilderness, provision of recreational opportunities and other values.