Sagebrush steppes are rapidly disappearing because of habitat destruction, invasive species and fires and if climate change continues the sea of sage that used to cover much of the western United States will disappear and Sagebrush-Obligate species like this Sage Thrasher will disappear too.
So what does Sagebrush-Obligate mean? It means those species of birds and animals depend on Sagebrush to live and survive. You won’t see a Sage Thrasher during the breeding season in any location without sagebrush.
Habitat destruction includes clearing the land for cattle grazing. I’ve seen that happen on the gentle slopes of the Stansbury Mountain range and I honestly cringe when I see the land stripped of the sage which can allow invasive species like cheat grass to take hold. I see them ripping the sagebrush out of the ground during the nesting season and I know that eggs were destroyed and young birds were killed.
The Sage Thrashers won’t sing or display in those areas again in my lifetime.
Climate change is going to cause huge problems for Sage Thrashers and other Sagebrush-Obligate species. I haven’t researched what the projections are for other Sagebrush-Obligate population declines but for the Sage Thrashers the projected population decline is 78%. That is right, 78% fewer Sage Thrashers than we have now and their populations have been declining about 0.6 percent per year since 1968.
Yes, I know that some people look at Sagebrush Steppes and think they are barren , worthless areas except for what can be extracted from the earth below.
They are wrong and ignorant.
Ignorance about climate change is rampant, the Governor of Florida has put a law into effect that prevents state employees from even saying the words “climate change”. Well he might be able to stop those employees from saying those words but he isn’t going to stop what is already happening.
I have no doubt that our climate is changing because I see it every time I go into the field. Our winter was the warmest on record and it is just going to get worse in coming years. I’m dreading the high temps we will have this summer and the wildfires that will come along with them.
Sagebrush is slow growing so when it is yanked up to “improve” the area for cattle grazing or wildfires sweep through it takes decades to fully recover. And the Sagebrush-Obligate species have to move to other areas or die.
I probably won’t be around when the Sage Thrasher population reaches that projected 78% decline but my grandchildren and their children will be.
And I find that very sad.
Can the disappearance of Sagebrush Seas be stopped? Yes, it could be (or at least slowed down) but we need lawmakers that believe in science and act on it. We need lawmakers who care about future generations and the wildlife that inhabits our lands now. We need the people who care to step up now.
Tomorrow may be too late to help Sage Thrashers and the rapidly disappearing sea of sage.
The first image in this post was taken last year using my Nikon D300 and Nikkor 200-400mm VR lens. The rest of the images were taken within this past week using my Nikon D810 with a Nikkor 500mm VR lens.