Sagelands Heritage Program

Restoring and connecting Inland Northwest sagelands for wildlife and people

Latest update: Washington’s embattled shrub-steppe ecosystem gets monetary boost from Legislature

Our Sagelands Heritage Program (SHP) works to protect, connect and restore shrub-steppe landscapes from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to south-central Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills for the good of both wildlife and people.

A hen or female sage grouse in Washington. Photo Ferdi Businger

Priority species include sage grouse, bighorn sheep, badgers, sharp-tailed grouse, mule deer and pygmy rabbits. Our work also benefits pronghorn antelope as they are reintroduced to this landscape, as well as raptors, owls, beavers, Rocky Mountain elk and other species.

The main focus of our work is a “Connected Backbone” of important habitat linkages that runs north-south east of the Cascade Mountains, including places such as Okanagan Mountain, the Tunk Valley, the Waterville Plateau, Moses Coulee, the Colockum, Wenas and other state wildlife areas, and lands on the Colville and Yakama nations.

As we began the SHP in 2017, initial work involved coordinating with the Arid Lands Initiative and other partners to create regional conservation and habitat connectivity resources to inform our planning. This synthesis of existing science identifies “pinch points” for maintaining and restoring connectivity, without which will impact the entire linkage. From this work, we have developed program goals and specific projects.

Watch our new film, This Land is Part of Us: Washington’s shrub-steppe ecosystem 

Or view our interactive Sagelands Heritage Program Story Map, check out a map showing key work areas (PDF) across our Sagelands Heritage Program, or the northern and southern extent of the program.


You can also watch our Google Flyover video:

Learn more about shrub-steppe from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife


Sagelands Program News

The Connected Backbone, a stretch of key north-south and east-west habitat running from the Okanagan Valley south into Oregon. Our program focus extends from Okanagan Mountain in B.C. to Horse Heaven Hills near Yakima. Map: Sonia Hall, SAH Ecological

Additional shrub-steppe resources

Program Priorities

  1. Coordinate with partners to present an action plan for maintaining and restoring habitat connectivity that:
    • identifies the contribution and cumulative outcomes of ongoing efforts in the region;
    • highlights gaps in conservation action; and
    • prioritizes the “pinch points” and landscape-scale measures for connectivity that, if lost, impact the entire linkage for wildlife and plant species.
  2. Serve as a catalyst for localized efforts for protection and restoration of a range of arid land species by securing linkages between habitat patches and core populations.
  3. Maintain, restore and protect landscape-scale linkages with attention to promoting climate corridors, preventing habitat-damaging wildfires and managing multiple ownership lands in a way that benefits habitat and wildlife.
  4. Add value to ongoing Arid Lands Initiative implementation efforts.
  5. Develop relationships and a record of success with landowners in this part of the state that could lead to broader-scale cooperation in the future.
  6. Integrate First Nations and Tribal ecological, cultural and indigenous-food knowledge and concerns with all efforts to maintain, restore, protect and connect native habitat.


Or read about the differences between fires in grasslands and forests in this blog! Or check out Methow Valley News article on the connection between invasive cheatgrass and fire in shrub-steppe landscapes. 


Program Context

The northernmost extent of a “Sagebrush Sea” that extends from the Rocky Mountains to the Inland Northwest, our region’s arid steppe is often overlooked, compared to mountains like the Cascades. But spend time in this country and you’ll find diverse wildlife, vibrant local communities, important agriculture and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Mule deer in Eastern Washingtons sagelands. Photo: Ferdi Businger

Because the ongoing Working for Wildlife Initiative—led by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and coordinated by Conservation Northwest—already exists within much of the northern portion of our focal area, we have several projects underway that will run in parallel with our main SHP goals in the Okanogan Valley in the northern third of the Connected Backbone.

One of these is the Safe Passage 97 project, an effort with local chapters of the Mule Deer Foundation for wildlife crossings under Highway 97 in the Okanogan Valley.

We’re also continuing to support the establishment of a South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, just over the U.S.-Canada border. At the top of the Connected Backbone and the very northern extent of the Sagebrush Sea, a new Canadian national park here would have tremendous benefits for wildlife habitat connectivity, outdoor recreation and local economies on both sides of the international border.

South and east of the Columbia River on the Waterville Plateau and around Moses Coulee, we’re supporting land conservation through Chelan-Douglas Land Trust and other partners, including Spiva Butte near Leahy Junction. This beautiful 1,300-acre property contains important winter cover for sharp-tailed grouse, sage-grouse leks and excellent habitat for a multitude of species. Permanently conserving this property will provide an important anchor point in the Connected Backbone in eastern Douglas County.

Pronghorn antelope in Wyoming. These unique animals roamed central Washington’s sagebrush steppe until the 20th century. Photo: Chase Gunnell

Across the Columbia River between Wenatchee, Ellensburg and Yakima, we are looking at key state and federal lands to support habitat connectivity, outdoor recreation and other values, including the Colockum, L.T. Murray and Wenas state wildlife areas and the U.S. Army’s Yakima Training Center.

We’re supporting the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Washington Department of Transportation and Yakama Nation in efforts to implement House Bill 1353. This legislation will work to reduce human-elk conflict near the Colockum Wildlife area and around I-90 between Ellensburg and Vantage, and includes strategies to reduce animal-vehicle collisions.

In all this work, we want to coordinate closely with the first peoples of these landscapes, integrating Colville Confederated Tribes, Yakama Nation and B.C. First Nations’ indigenous plant, wildlife and habitat connectivity knowledge into the SHP. As we seek to build on our existing partnerships and create new connections to support the goals of these tribal nations, we’ll benefit from the guidance of Conservation Northwest boardmembers and Colville tribal members, Amelia and Joaquin Marchand.

We’re also excited to support both the Colville and Yakama nations in their efforts to return native pronghorn antelope to Washington’s sagelands. This native species was missing for most of the 20th century, but small herds have been reintroduced to each nation’s reservation, spreading to surrounding areas. We’ll keep their needs in mind as we focus on habitat linkages, and hope our efforts will someday allow such restoration programs to expand to state and federal wildlife areas in Washington’s shrub-steppe.

Your support is vital

Along the way, we plan to keep our membership and wider audiences aware of the importance of our new SHP through presentations, blogs, short videos, news articles and Google Flyover mapping products.

Washington’s sagelands are a special place—vital to people and dozens of native bird and wildlife species. Cognizant of the many entities that are already doing great work in these landscapes, we’re employing Conservation Northwest’s three decades of skill, leadership and expertise to complement and leverage current conservation efforts in the region.

These are exciting times for our organization to be involved with such important connectivity work, with so many great partners! Join us as we embark on new efforts to protect, connect and restore Washington’s sagelands. Your support is vital for our success.

More information on sage-grouse, pygmy rabbit, sharp-tailed grouse, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep.

Sage brush and flowers in Moses Coulee, Eastern Washington. Washington’s sagelands are expansive, but fragmented. Our Sagelands Heritage Program works to to maintain, restore and connect shrub-steppe landscapes for the good of both wildlife and people. Photo: Chase Gunnell