In this semi-arid land it is instructive to be reminded that the ecoregion’s fisheries are an important part of its diversity.The Columbia River system, first bisecting the ecoregion between Oregon and Washington and then forming the core of its extent in Idaho and stretching all the way into northern Nevada, at one time sustained one of the largest salmon runs in the world.The sagebrush steppe ecosystem supports huge herds of pronghorn that still have seasonal migrations and numerous species of birds of prey nest here at higher densities than anywhere else on earth.Approximately 46 plant community alliances (according to the Gap Analysis Program (GAP) of U. Geological Survey) and approximately 450 plant community associations (according to TNC/Heritage classification) occur in the Columbia Plateau.Throughout much of the rest of the ecoregion ranching is the dominant industry.Small family ranches mixed in with larger corporate ranches dot vast areas of the Basin & Range country and the Owyhee Uplands.
Only 3% of the ecoregion has formal management designation that gives priority to maintaining biological diversity.
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Population centers are widely dispersed in the ecoregion with only one metropolitan area, Boise, Idaho, exceeding 100,000 in population.
Other cities are growing rapidly, however, with the Tri Cities of Washington (Kenniwick, Pasco, Richland); Bend, Oregon; Moscow, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls, Idaho all likely to become major centers in the near future.
Today, the salmon runs have declined to less than a tenth of their former size due to the effects of dams, diversions, over-fishing and upland habitat degradation.