Where-to: Observe Desert Wildlife

Devlin Holloway

Author: Joanna Zhang  |  Published: January 18, 2023 |  Category: Where-to

Oregon’s high desert is teeming with a diversity of 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 batch of species that literally would not exist if not for these sagebrush grasslands. Known as “sagebrush obligates,” they include a number of species you probably know. Pygmy rabbit, North America’s smallest rabbit, dig their burrows in dense stands of sagebrush and feed primarily on the plant. Birds such as sagebrush sparrow, Brewer’s sparrow and sage thrasher build their nests in or under sagebrush, while the West’s iconic greater sage-grouse depend on sagebrush throughout the year. 

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. 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. ONDA will leap into these processes, advocating for wildlife protections along with improved land management, preservation of wilderness, provision of recreational opportunities and other values. We look forward to partnering with ONDA’s community of wildlife lovers and desert advocates to provide the strongest protections possible in the final plans.

A few representative key species will drive planning across the entire high desert over the next couple of years. Read on to learn more about these ambassadors of the Sagebrush Sea and how ONDA’s strategic efforts will protect them and other wildlife, and where you can go see them yourself! 


Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse




Found only in North America, where it is the most common wildcat, the bobcat takes its common name from its stubby, or “bobbed,” tail. The cats range in length from two to four feet and weigh 14 to 29 pounds. Bobcats mainly hunt rabbits and hares, but they will also eat rodents, birds, bats, and even adult deer.

Latin name: Lynx rufus fasciatus



What defines Oregon’s high desert?

What defines Oregon’s high desert?

Bounded by the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Blue Mountains to the north, Oregon’s high desert covers approximately 24,000 square miles. Annual rainfall in the high desert varies from 5 to 14 inches. The average elevation is 4,000 feet; at 9,733 feet, the summit of Steens Mountain is the highest point in Oregon’s high desert. The terrain of the high desert was mostly formed by a series of lava flows that occurred between 30 and 10 million years ago.

Sources: The Oregon Encyclopedia; Wikipedia  

Greater sage-grouse male

Barb Rumer

Greater sage-grouse female

Tom Koerner, USFWS

Greater sage-grouse chicks

Greater Sage-grouse

This year, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported a small increase in the statewide sage-grouse population, but on the whole, the Oregon population remains 40 percent below 2003 baseline estimates. Sage-grouse require large tracts of intact sagebrush to survive, and ONDA is engaged in several partnerships and planning efforts to protect and restore critical sage-grouse habitat. 

Learn More: Protecting the Greater Sage-grouse

Where Sage-Grouse Thrive

Anderson Crossing

Anderson Crossing is at the start of Section 21 of the ODT. This can be accessed by high clearance vehicles (high water years may make the trip impossible as you […]

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Sage-Grouse Habitat

Goal Improve the chances for sage-grouse survival by monitoring the implementation of the 2015 Sage-Grouse Plan and ecological conditions of sage-grouse habitat in southeast Oregon Timeline Project Start Year: 2016 […]

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Steens Mountain Summit

On your way to the top of Steens Mountain Summit trailhead, you’ll pass by two amazing viewpoints that involve short walks—Kiger Gorge and the East Rim—and we recommend stopping at […]

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Devlin Holloway

Pronghorn fawns

Jeremy Austin

Nursing pronghorn fawns

Chris Christie


Pronghorn are the fastest mammal in North America, having adapted to outrun the now-extinct American cheetah. Due to hunting and habitat loss, pronghorn almost followed the way of the American cheetah, declining to as few as 10,000 to 15,000 individuals across the country in the early 20th century. Through conservation efforts, pronghorn populations are rebounding, and they need further protective measures to keep up that trend. Oregon’s Greater Hart-Sheldon region is home to an important population of pronghorn, and ONDA is working with partners to promote the protection of this essential habitat. 

Learn More: The Essential Pronghorn Corridor in the Northern Great Basin

Where Pronghorn Thrive

Beatys and Mahogany Buttes

There is no developed trail to the top, so the hike begins when you have found a decent spot to park your vehicle. Beatys Butte at 7,885 above sea level […]

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Sutton Mountain

At 4,700 feet tall, Sutton Mountain towers over the surrounding landscape. With a steep, craggy west side and a rolling, grassy eastern face, the mountain has a mysterious Jekyll and […]

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Bull trout

Willow-Whitehorse Basin Cutthroat Trout

C. Large

Warner Sucker

Native Fish

While fish are perhaps the least obvious animal to be thought of in the desert, eastern Oregon is home to several threatened species of native fish, including Lahontan cutthroat trout, bull trout, Hutton tui chub and warner sucker. These fish are genetically distinct species that evolved in the isolated lakes and drainages of Oregon’s high desert, and these unique populations are in danger of blinking out of existence without our help. While federal resource management planning is important for conserving vitally important watersheds, ONDA is also advocating for the protection of hundreds of miles of desert waterways, including vital habitat for native fish species. 

Learn More: Wild and Worth Protecting

Where Desert Fish Thrive