Desert Wildlife

Devlin Holloway

Author: Joanna Zhang  |  Published: January 18, 2023

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. 

voices

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

“I connect with Oregon’s high desert through my feet, my eyes, my sense of smell, and all the things I hear. Getting out there is a whole body experience.” Supporting ONDA, Helen says, not only connects her with wild landscapes, but is also a good investment. “I felt like if I gave them $20, they might squeeze $23 out of it.”

fact

Bobcat

Bobcat

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

 

voices

Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

“Protecting public land is part of my spiritual being. It’s central to my identity to be in wilderness and to see it protected.” Durlin is proud to protect public lands for future generations, saying, “The highlight of my childhood was our family’s weekend outdoor trips. I look forward to my grandchildren having similar experiences outside in their lifetimes, and it wouldn’t be possible without ONDA.”

Greater sage-grouse male

Barb Rumer

Greater sage-grouse female

Tom Koerner, USFWS

Greater sage-grouse chicks

Greater Sage-grouse

The statewide sage-grouse population in Oregon has hovered around 40 percent below 2003 baseline estimates since 2020. Sage-grouse require large tracts of intact sagebrush to survive. ONDA is engaged in several partnerships and planning efforts to protect and restore habitat critical to the survival of the species. 

Learn More: Protecting the Greater Sage-grouse

Pronghorn

Devlin Holloway

Pronghorn fawns

Jeremy Austin

Nursing pronghorn fawns

Chris Christie

Pronghorn

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. Decades of conservation efforts have saved the pronghorn, though the species will require continued attention into the future. Oregon’s Greater Hart-Sheldon region is home to an important migratory population of pronghorn, and ONDA is working with partners to secure permanent protection for this essential habitat. 

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

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, as well as the renowned redband trout, are genetically distinct species, evolving from populations that became isolated in lakes and drainages throughout the high desert over millennia. Now these unique fish 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