“The Place in Between,” “The Big Empty,” “flyover country” — it goes by bleak names, but this iconic western landscape is far more than it seems. An ocean of sage fills high basins and sweeping valleys, spanning 250,000 square miles of the United States and Canada. It’s a cold desert where relentless wind, sparse rainfall, and extreme temperatures prohibit the growth of trees. What’s left is an expanse of scattered sagebrush — a rugged and aromatic shrub toxic to most animals. Yet sagebrush is the backbone of an ecosystem. Grasses and wildflowers thrive in its shade, supporting abundant insects, reptiles, mammals and birds, large and small.