Before Thanksgiving, I interviewed Alison Holloran, Deputy Director of Audubon Wyoming. Alison works alongside Regional Director Brian Rutledge; and together they developed the Audubon Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative. Alison earned her master’s degree at the University of Wyoming, studying the effects of natural gas drilling on Greater sage grouse populations. She met her husband, Matt (renowned sage grouse researcher) on the Pinedale, WY Mesa and has spent her entire professional career working for sagebrush and sage grouse conservation. She is a conservation hero and I’ll post a picture of her here… whenever I can catch up with her in the field. Thanks to Alison for graciously giving your time and sharing your expertise.
Me: Why do sagebrush landscapes matter?
Alison: Sagebrush landscapes can be looked at from many different perspectives. First, the historic perspective; then the anthropogenic perspective. When you think of the American West, you think of sagebrush, kind of wide sweeping open plains, the cowboy story. We have a lot of history and love for the land just based on what we imagine the West to be. What we imagine is more important from the wildlife side. In Wyoming, we have some of the biggest expanses of sagebrush that dip down into Colorado and Utah, up into Montana, across the Great Basin and they provide a lot of wildlife habitat. Sagebrush provides range for mule deer and elk, which from the human side of things and economically, provides a stable base for hunting and ecotourism. Unfortunately, in the early days sagebrush was looked upon as a problem species – one that we needed to clear out for development and agricultural practices – so we really have taken out a lot of our sagebrush ecosystems and therefore a lot of our sagebrush obligates (species). We have seen mule deer populations diminish, we’ve seen sage grouse populations diminish, not to mention all of the other obligates that we don’t really think about, the bird species, sage thrasher, sage sparrow, Brewer’s sparrow, species like reptiles – you know people don’t like to think of snakes but they are out there as well, right down to the insects and the plant diversity has diminished. So we are looking at an ecosystem that is extremely important for many, many species of wildlife and hence very important for our economy in the West and yet we keep slicing it and dicing it and taking it away. We need to save our environment to save ourselves. And that’s really why I’m in it, not only for myself but also for my children. I’m trying to save some of the environment so that future generations have something to enjoy, to recreate in… Besides the grasslands, the sagebrush ecosystem is one of our most imperiled ecosystems in the United States. (more…)