Restoring and Managing the “Emerald Islands” of the Sagebrush Sea

New Science, Sticks and Stones, and the Eager Beaver

SMALL iStock-Montana Sagebrush Mesic Riparian Ribbon.jpg

In sagebrush ecosystems of the American West, mesic habitats—wet, green areas such as streamsides, springs, or meadows—comprise only small fraction of the arid landscape. Yet these habitats are the lifeblood that sustain people and wildlife during the summer. These “emerald islands” retain enough soil moisture to remain productive late in the growing season, making them vital grocery stores that supply nutritious food and water for working lands and wildlife when uplands dry out.

Recent partnership efforts to holistically conserve sagebrush rangelands from ridgetops to valley bottoms have brought a renewed focus to conserving these rare mesic habitats. Restoration and management opportunities abound but approaches that are relatively simple, low cost, and effective are needed to engage more landowners and partners in conservation at meaningful scales.

The following science highlights: (1) examples of relatively simple yet effective approaches land managers are scaling up to boost resilience to drought, (2) new science and technology for quantifying outcomes of restoration and informing conservation targeting, and (3) provide an in-depth look at how managers are partnering with beaver in riparian restoration.

Hannah Nikonow