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Restoring Critical Habitat in the Bear River and Green River Watershed

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Wyoming
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Wyoming

For years, the National Wildlife Refuge Association has been pivotal in restoring critical habitat throughout rangelands in the Bear River and Green River watersheds. In 2016, the Refuge Association joined the USFWS and private landowners to celebrate the acquisition of a 30-acre conservation easement, which established Bear River Migratory Bird National Wildlife Refuge in Utah. Through the Beyond the Boundaries program, the Refuge Association has continued to provide technical assistance throughout the region, to build effective public-private partnerships, and conduct large-scale conservation projects.

Rangelands, which cover over half of the western part of the U.S., are vast landscapes where native vegetation is dominant. In Wyoming, 85 percent of the state is rangeland, from the alpine tundra of the high mountains to the sage steppe deserts thousands of feet below.

In the Western U.S., rangelands are vast and seem inexhaustible, but they are fragile ecosystems and can be easily disrupted. In Wyoming, direct and indirect impacts from human and natural sources, such as nonnative species, development, unsustainable uses, and climate change, threaten the sustainability of this important resource.

Bear River, the largest tributary of the Great Salt Lake, flows though southwest Wyoming, southeastern Idaho and northern Utah. In southwest Wyoming, the Bear River meanders through the Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) along with private lands rich in lush vegetation, which provides excellent habitat for migratory and resident wildlife. The refuge has one of the highest densities of nesting waterfowl in Wyoming, including white-faced ibis and black terns. It also provides suitable habitat for the possible re-introduction of trumpeter swans.

Nick Prasser
Nick Prasser

Nick Prasser, a Range Ecologist for the Refuge Association, has been working in Wyoming with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife (PFW) program to restore upland habitat, control invasive weeds, improve riparian habitats, and remove obstacles that block fish migration. So far, Prasser has inventoried over 10,000 acres of private rangelands to develop grazing plans, create conservation management plans, and assist conservation partners.

“In my work I enhance and restore rangelands on a voluntary basis for the mutual benefit of wildlife and users such as ranching because healthy environments are an asset to everyone,” said Prasser.

The Wyoming PFW program has been active in enhancing wetlands adjacent to the refuge by repairing and building water control structures to maximize benefits for wildlife and ranching. Thanks to the incredible efforts of Prasser, work has expanded to sagebrush uplands adjacent to Cokeville Meadows NWR.

 

Invasive Cheatgrass | Jaepil Cho
Invasive Cheatgrass | Jaepil Cho

Restoration work has also begun in the sagebrush uplands on private lands near the Cokeville Meadows NWR to reduce the spread of an invasive weed called cheatgrass. Cheatgrass reduces available food and cover for wildlife and endangers properties due to increased fire risk. Prasser is currently surveying rangelands to determine its presence, investigate treatment effects, and improve habitat. The Refuge Association has begun conversations with the Bureau of Land Management and private livestock grazers to adjust management to enhance productivity of native vegetation next to the refuge.

The Wyoming Partners for Fish and Wildlife has completed over 430 conservation projects on Wyoming private lands by building broad based partnerships and engaging with the local community. The Refuge Association is one partner in helping to continue the tradition of addressing conservation and landowner needs across the state.

In southwest Wyoming, private landownership can present programs for large landscape conservation projects because every other square mile of land is either public or private, like the black and white squares on a checkerboard. The PFW usually must spend money and time on private lands, but if every private land parcel is next to a public land parcel, it becomes challenging to implement projects at an ecosystem scale. The partnership between the Refuge Association and the Wyoming PFW allows for coordination between private lands biologists and ecologists like Nick Prasser to implement effective and collaborative restoration projects on a landscape scale.

We will continue to work throughout the Bear River and Green River watersheds to make landscape scale conservation a reality thanks to the great work of staff members like Nick Prasser.

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2017/05/restoring-critical-habitat-in-the-bear-river-and-green-river-watershed/

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