Driving through Sweetwater County, Wyoming on Interstate 80 at 75 mph at mid-day can leave you with a feeling of a pretty bleak landscape. Sagebrush is a dominant plant species in this cold-desert area.
Yet, even in this harsh dry region of the country, life exists. If fact many species are partially to completely dependent on the sagebrush community for their survival. Of course, it is hard to witness this from the comfort of your car as you barrel down the Interstate.
Three species of birds have “Sage” in their name.
One of the more well known of these birds is the Sage Grouse. These grouse are entirely dependent on sagebrush habitat for successful reproduction and winter survival. Conservation efforts are underway to protect this species from a decline in population. Invasive plant species, changing wildfire patterns, and energy development impact them.
The Sage Thrasher is a somewhat common bird in the sagebrush community. It breeds almost exclusively in dense stands of sagebrush, but it does use other habitats throughout the winter months. Its population is also on the decline for reasons similar to the Sage Grouse.
As with the other species listed above, the Sagebrush Sparrow requires healthy sagebrush for successful breeding. Its population is threatened by the invasive cheatgrass, over-grazing, and habitat fragmentation.
The next time you are flying across Wyoming on I-80, stop by a riparian area and see what is lurking in the sagebrush. It is tempting to hurry through what looks like a desolate desert. But life does exist.