Lander Field Office and partners join forces to improve headwaters tributary

Story by Leah Yandow, Lander Field Office Wildlife Biologist; and Chad Mickschl, Hydrologist, Aquatic Resource Management Program Lead, Wyoming State Office. Photos by Leah Yandow. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wyoming Lander Field Office and partners are working together to improve a headwaters tributary of the Sweetwater River, where evidence of historic beaver dams, an old mining canal and the namesake “Deep Creek” suggest a riparian system that once looked much different than it does today.

A group of people standing around and near some rocks and looking down at a dried-up stream covered in grass.
A view of the degraded condition of the stream before restoration methods were applied.

This project has been a multi-dimensional effort focused on low-tech process-based restoration techniques that aim to re-establish rates of physical, chemical and biological processes to create and sustain stream and riparian ecosystems. In collaboration with other agencies and organizations, the BLM chose restoration methods such as Zeedyk structures and Beaver Dam Analogs (BDAs) for this stream system because of the potential for sustainable grazing and the natural resiliency of this system. BDAs are structures that mimic and promote the processes of beaver dam building activity. Zeedyk structures are hand-built rock and log structures.

The restoration activities took place in a workshop setting sponsored by the Intermountain West Joint Venture, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the BLM. The first phase of the project involved building Zeedyk structures to address erosion in an intermittent section of the stream. A group of agency and non-profit personnel built the rock structures to halt a rapidly advancing headcut and installed grade control structures to slow the flow of water in a mesic, intermittent meadow.

A view of a Zeedyk structure- gray rocks around a stream.
Zeedyk structures can help stabilize incised channels and prevent progression of headcuts during high flows.
A group of 10 people and a dog are next to a grade control structure- gray rocks sitting in the green grass.
The BLM and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers also helped The Nature Conservancy (TNC) build grade control structures on TNC and BLM-administered lands.

During the second phase of the project, the BLM hosted three collaborative build days and installed BDAs using lodgepole pine posts, willow branches and wads of sod harvested from nearby hummocks. The series of small, semi-porous structures slow water, giving it time to spread out, drop sediment, seep into the stream banks and raise the water table. Installing BDAs adds structure to the stream, which will facilitate riparian vegetation growth and stabilize the stream system. This strategy uses natural processes of streams to heal and repair themselves over time.

These restoration techniques will work jointly with an existing rotational grazing plan that alters the frequency and timing of disturbance to improve the function of the system within the current ecological and land-use context.

Four volunteers are installing wood posts in the green grass.
The BLM hosted a volunteer work day with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to build BDAs using lodgepole pine posts, willow branches and sod harvested on site.

This project is one of several local projects that are building a network of professionals with the knowledge base and skills to design and implement low-tech process-based restoration projects in local watersheds. Low-tech restoration strategies can make a meaningful impact, especially when scaled up and implemented on a landscape level in watersheds where the prescription is appropriate and where current land uses such as livestock grazing are sustainable. Process-based restoration aims to keep water on the landscape longer, which helps improve and maintain riparian and wetland areas, aquatic habitat and water resources on public lands. Healthy aquatic systems enhance the BLM’s ability to manage multiple uses on these lands. 

Acknowledgements: Big thank you to the 2021 Zeedyk workshop team including BioLogic, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Intermountain West Joint Venture; and to participants and field leaders in the 2021 workshop and 2022 BDA build days including Wyoming Game and Fish Department, The Nature Conservancy, NRCS, Pheasants Forever, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Popo Agie Conservation District, U.S. Forest Service, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.