Conservation Commission News

New long-term strategy promotes conservation of Washington’s imperiled shrubsteppe habitat

New long-term strategy promotes conservation of Washington’s imperiled shrubsteppe habitat

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC), and Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this week submitted a new plan to the state Legislature intended to guide conservation of Washington’s shrubsteppe habitat for the next 30 years.

The Washington Shrubsteppe Restoration and Resiliency Initiative (WSRRI) Long-term Strategy aims to protect wildlife and habitat while supporting working lands and communities across the shrubsteppe landscape, especially amid the increased threat of wildfires throughout Washington.  

“This strategy represents the culmination of years of important work to better define actions needed to address the threats facing shrubsteppe habitats, wildlife, and communities in Washington,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “We as a state are now in a stronger position to move forward protecting this vital landscape in the face of new and ever-changing challenges.”

“Our shrubsteppe habitats are such a crucial landscape in Washington, and I’m eager to see this strategy come to fruition,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “This is a big step forward in protecting these habitats from continued threats, including the ever-present dangers of wildfire. I’m eager to see the impact that this collaboration will have on this important habitat and the surrounding species.”

“This final plan is the result of two years of dedicated collaboration with WDFW and DNR and underscores our steadfast commitment to working closely with both agencies. We are very excited to be able to present the plan in its final form,” said James Thompson, SCC executive director. “This work is important to chart our path forward through collaborative community engagement and support of working lands in our state’s shrubsteppe landscape. We look forward to many more years of fruitful cooperation for exciting conservation and restoration progress.”

The shrubsteppe landscape once covered more than 10 million acres in Eastern Washington and still provides habitat for a wide range of plant and wildlife species, some of which – like the endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit – live only in the shrubsteppe.

An estimated 60 to 80% of Washington’s shrubsteppe habitat has already been lost or degraded amid threats from wildfires, invasive species, land-use conversion, and other impacts. Fires in recent years have burned hundreds of thousands of acres of Eastern Washington habitat; in September 2020, an unprecedented fire event burned 300,000 acres in a single day.

"It has been a real pleasure to work with colleagues in WDFW and DNR on this very important long term strategy for Washington’s shrubsteppe landscape that brings into focus both the needs of the wildlife and working lands managers in one place," said Shana Joy, SCC's southeast regional manager and regional manager coordinator. "I look forward to diving into implementation of the strategy especially around community engagement and working lands support, within this strong partnership framework."

The new strategy document includes four key goals covering themes of community engagement, habitat protection and restoration, species management, and wildfire management. The Strategy outlines actions needed to protect and restore the shrubsteppe landscape, build fire-resistant and resilient habitats, recover wildlife, support working lands stewards, and respond to and protect from wildland fire. The strategy emphasizes actions to implement habitat restoration work at a landscape scale, re-establishing and expanding native and perennial plant communities and delivering resources quickly in the event of wildfire.

The long-term strategy emphasizes the need for a wide spectrum of coordinated recovery efforts through strategic investments that defend, grow, and connect the remaining core shrubsteppe habitat. An extensive mapping effort accompanied development of the new strategy, helping experts better understand the current status of shrubsteppe in Eastern Washington and where to focus conservation efforts.

"We are so glad to have been able to come together and collaborate on this incredible work. At the very beginning of this effort, we were able to support conservation districts in the implementation of deferred grazing and wildlife friendly fencing projects, including the piloting of virtual fence, a brand-new technology in Washington state," said Allisa Carlson, SCC's south central regional manager. "With the strategy in place, these programs will continue, and we will seek to secure and leverage funding for continued habitat restoration, sustainable grazing management, and reducing wildland fire risk throughout working lands in the shrubsteppe ecosystem."

More information on WSRRI, the long-term strategy, and Washington’s shrubsteppe landscape is available at WDFW’s website; the full “Washington Shrubsteppe Restoration and Resiliency Initiative: Long-Term Strategy 2024-2054” report is also available online.


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish, wildlife, and recreational and commercial opportunities.

The Washington State Conservation Commission is the coordinating state agency for all 45 conservation districts in Washington State. Together, the SCC and conservation districts provide voluntary, incentive-based programs that empower people to practice conservation and ensure healthy natural resources and agriculture for all.

Administered by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the Washington Department of Natural Resources manages more than 5.6 million acres of state-owned forest, range, commercial, agricultural, conservation, and aquatic lands. Of these, more than half are held in trust to produce income to support public schools and other essential services. State trust lands managed by DNR provide other public benefits, including outdoor recreation, habitat for native fish and wildlife, and watersheds for clean water.

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