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Great Basin Information


The Great Basin and the Columbia Plateau

The name Great Basin refers to the fact that the rivers and lakes of this region have no outlet to the sea. This hydrographic definition of the Great Basin indicates the region from which water does not drain. However, most ecologists prefer a floristic definition that includes shrub-steppe regions of eastern Washington and Oregon, southern Idaho, northern Nevada and Utah, and portions of northeastern California. This more inclusive description will be used to define our geographical coverage of the Great Basin.

The Great Basin and Columbia Plateau regions comprise a large area of the western United States, approximately 225,674 sq. miles in size. The Great Basin (approximately 113,144 sq. miles) lies mostly in Nevada and extends into California, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah. It is bordered by the Sierra Nevada to the west, the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateau to the east, the Mojave Desert to the south, and the Columbia Plateau to the north. The Columbia Plateau (approximately 112,530 sq. miles) lies mostly in Oregon and Idaho, but extends south into California, Nevada, and Utah, and north into Washington. It consists of arid tablelands, intermontane basins, dissected lava plains, and scattered low mountains.

Three major plant communities grow in the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau: sagebrush, salt desert shrub, and pinyon-juniper woodlands. Temperature and moisture dictate where each is found. Salt desert shrub usually grows in low, dry elevations, whereas sagebrush requires surroundings with greater moisture levels and sandy, slightly alkaline soils. Pinyon-juniper woodlands occur at the base of mountains, while forests of pine, spruce, fir, and aspen blanket the high peaks. The sagebrush community, which consists of a mixed mosaic of shrubs, perennial grasses, and forbs, is the most common. These plant communities are home to more than 200 bird, 70 mammal, and 20 amphibian and reptile species. The Great Basin is also home to many sensitive, threatened, and endangered plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.


Significant resource issues are prevalent on public, private, and non-governmental lands within the Great Basin. Click on an issue below to learn more:

Find out more:

Applications served at this site:

Great Basin Research and Management Partnership

Sage-grouse Local Working Group Locator

Fish-On Line

Monitoring Stream Ecosystems to Understand Effects of Disturbance and Restoration

Wind Energy Workshop

Image catalog

Wandering Birds

These applications are based upon work previously supported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) Program.

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