In the arid lands of the Columbia Plateau we work with our chapter network and partners in the the Arid Lands Initiative to identify, connect, and protect the best remaining bird habitat. We manage local, hands-on efforts to:
- Protect remaining critical sagebrush habitat
- Close information gaps in our knowledge of focal bird species’ distribution and habitat needs
- Build public-private partnerships in support of habitat connectivity and rangeland fire
- Influence land management in priority sagebrush lands
- Advance multi-benefit renewable energy siting
Approximately 10.5 million acres of the Columbia Plateau ecoregion of eastern Washington and Oregon were once covered by sagebrush and native grasses. Today, these arid lands have largely been converted to irrigated agricultural fields and are fragmented by development, resulting in over a 50% loss of historic sagebrush habitat. As a result of these changes, 21 bird species associated with the sagebrush steppe are considered priority species for conservation; close to half of all Washington state species of conservation concern are associated with shrub steppe and grassland ecosystems.
To identify and protect the best remaining habitat for sagebrush songbirds, we’ve partnered with our chapter network and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to survey songbird occurrence across the Columbia Plateau. Data from this effort is being used to generate new species distribution maps for use in land-use planning and ecosystem protection. Check back in summer 2020 for an update on the new maps!
Renewable Energy Siting
With the adoption of the 100 percent clean energy standard in Washington state, the number and scale of renewable energy projects is already ramping up, creating a growing number of conflicts between clean energy, agriculture, and wildlife conservation. Indeed, there are already 10 commercial scale solar energy projects in the pipeline. As a proponent of renewable energy and the voice for birds, Audubon is responsible for facilitating the responsible siting of renewable energy projects.
Rangeland fire is an increasingly pressing problem due to invasive cheatgrass, which is fueling an increase in the frequency, severity and extent of fires across the west. Audubon works with landowners and our partners at the Arid Lands Initiative to enact policy solutions for better rangeland fire response in rural areas.