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January 3, 2006
Contact: Janine Terry

BLM begins planning for vegetation treatments

Vegetation treatment projects in the Bighorn Basin are being planned now for the next two years. The Bureau of Land Management Worland Field Office is seeking public participation so they can learn what concerns or issues there might be about the proposed projects.

Planning involves consultation with grazing permittees, adjacent landowners, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and members of the public who are interested in a specific area where treatments are proposed. Projects are usually planned a year or two in advance, during the winter months.

One of the current proposals includes a prescribed fire project involving 2,000 acres in the Upper Grass Creek watershed, about 40 miles west of Thermopolis near the H Diamond W 4-H Camp. This project would be done in cooperation with the LU Ranch, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The prescribed burn would enhance aspen, increase forage for livestock and wildlife, and improve wildlife habitat by creating a mosaic pattern of burned and unburned sagebrush.

About five miles north of the 4-H Camp, a similar burn of about 400 acres is being considered in the Mormon Creek area.

Several prescribed fire projects have been proposed for the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains. These include: 300 acres of mostly sagebrush, on Battle Creek north of Trapper Canyon near the national forest boundary; 200 acres of Utah juniper on the lower Cold Springs Road; and another 200 acres of Utah juniper in the North Brokenback watershed west of Ten Sleep.

Other prescribed fire projects for the west slope are being reviewed that will include the Rome Hill Road area, and the Crooked Creek area north of the Dry Farm Road.

Mechanical vegetation treatments are also being proposed throughout the Bighorn Basin this coming year. These projects include sagebrush mowing, aspen enhancement, juniper thinning, and thinning for timber stand improvement. Three proposed mechanical treatments are being considered in the areas of Black Mountain west of Greybull, Middle Fork of the Powder River, and Bald Ridge northeast of Ten Sleep.

Cheat grass is becoming a greater concern in the drier parts of the Bighorn Basin, especially southeast of Worland. Cheat grasses compete with more productive native grasses for nutrients and water. Cheat grasses also increase the frequency and severity of wildfires.

Because cheat grass seeds are not easily killed by fire, repeat wildfires (those on the same stretch of land year after year) lead to rangelands dominated by cheat grass monocultures, which are less productive for livestock and wildlife.

One such area that has had fire frequency the last few years is the Nowater Creek watershed. In 1996, nearly 100,000 acres burned in the southern Bighorn Basin for the first time since the area's settlement. Some locations within the 1996 wildfire area have already burned twice in the past nine years because of cheat grass expansion.

A pilot project to address these issues is planned for the Nowater Creek watershed that will use herbicides to control cheat grass and increase the production of native grasses and forbs.

Funding for the vegetation treatment projects come from a variety of sources, with the majority appropriated by Congress for the National Fire Plan. Contributed funds from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and private entities also support these projects.

The vegetation treatment projects are designed to restore fire adapted landscapes that have an excessive build up of old decadent vegetation, areas invaded by cheat grass, and areas where rangelands are being invaded by conifers, such as juniper and limber pine. The BLM's land managers have found that in nearly all cases, restoring the historic fire-return interval on landscapes also improves both wildlife habitat and forage production for livestock.

A list of proposed Worland Field Office projects can be found online at: http://www.wy.blm.gov/nepa/search/.

For more information about vegetation treatment projects, contact Jim Wolf, fuels program manager with the BLM in Worland, 307-347-5136. You can also send your questions and comments to Worland_wymail@blm.gov.

For additional information on prescribed fire and fuels management go to: http://www.fireplan.gov/.

--- BLM ---