High Desert District Sage-Grouse Conservation Initiatives

Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI)

Sage-grouse chick.
Elk Mountain.
Wheat Creek Meadows:
  Approximately 1.5 miles of new fence was built and about 8 miles of existing fence was replaced or upgraded to maximize the quantity and quality of the forage for wildlife. The project, which involved building an exclosure fence around approximately 1,600 acres to provide protection of wildlife habitat and wetlands, placed special emphasis on maximizing the potential for wildlife species production and diversity. The area provides habitat for many special status species including the sage-grouse, white-faced ibis, sage sparrow, sage thrasher, loggerhead shrike, Brewer’s sparrow, pygmy rabbit; and possibly even the Idaho pocket gopher, yellow-billed cuckoo, northern leopard frog, great basin spadefoot, boreal toad, and spotted frog. Fencing the area also protects a wetland enhancement project constructed in 1998 to improve habitat for many different species of wildlife. Partners, participants, or contributors on this project have included Ducks Unlimited, Intermountain West Joint Venture, WFW, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided in kind partner contributions).

Elk Mountain/Red Canyon Prescribed Burn (NFPORS):  This project improves the age class and diversity of plant communities. Improving transitional range will help hold the antelope and deer in this area, saving crucial winter areas for use later in the season. Other wildlife benefiting from this treatment are small mammals and a variety of birds, including sage-grouse. Quality, quantity, and availability of forage in this transitional-migratory area will be improved. Some of the included acres are within the wildland urban interface. The project will help improve grazing management and the project will help achieve Standards for Healthy Rangelands. Partners, participants, or contributors on this project include WGFD, Southwest Wyoming Sage-Grouse Working Group, Wyoming State Forestry Division, 39 livestock permittees, 4 private land owners, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, State of Wyoming Wildlife Trust, Jonah Interagency Mitigation and Reclamation, and the Wyoming Governors Big Game License Coalition (Partner contributions $275,000).

Rawlins Field Office

Antelope fawn.
Wildlife underpass being used by mule deer.
Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances:
  Niels Hansen (PH Livestock) has been developing a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for Greater Sage-Grouse for their livestock grazing operation. This CCAA will incorporate habitat improvements for sage-grouse into his range management practices within six allotments totaling 230,000 acres in the checkerboard. This effort has been a cooperative effort between Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wyoming State Grazing Board, the oil and gas operators within the allotments, and BLM for the companion CCAA. Identified threats and associated conservation measures have been developed and are being reviewed this month, and will be turned into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for evaluation early this spring.

Little Robber Reservoir Exclosure:  This project includes reconstructing the Little Robber reservoir wildlife exclosure and modifying a fence just east and north of the new mule deer highway underpass north of Baggs, Wyo. The Little Robber wildlife exclosure is over forty years old and needs total replacement. The new exclosure will encompass the entire reservoir (with a new tank and trough below for cattle) to reduce maintenance and maintain full functionality, even in dry years. The vegetation inside the exclosure is an oasis of trees and shrubs and bushes in the middle of a saltbush desert that gets a lot of use by wildlife, including Greater Sage-Grouse, antelope, waterfowl and shorebirds. The fence would be modified to allow improved wildlife access and plantings for vegetation diversity and bank stability and includes approximately ½ mile of new replaces fence. Devon Energy is providing financial support of the Wyoming Conservation Corps (WCC) to complete the bulk of this project. The BLM is providing the necessary materials and agency oversight. A WCC crew will complete this project with eight students over the course of ten days completing a minimum of 640 work hours toward this project. In addition, Devon Energy employees have volunteered to work alongside the WCC crew throughout the project.

Strutting sage-grouse.
Sage-grouse hens fighting.
Sage-grouse strutting on roadway.
Stewart Creek Riparian Habitat Enhancement:
  This project will create a 1,400-acre riparian management pasture, develop a solar-powered water well, and 1.3 miles of pipeline to deliver water for wildlife, particularly sage-grouse, to drier portions of the pasture. Williams Corporation donated the drilling for the water well. The Saratoga/Encampment/Rawlins Conservation District and Water for Wildlife helped pay for the solar-powered pump and pipeline. The BLM contributed fencing materials and shared the construction labor with the grazing permittee- Arapahoe Grazing Association, LLC. The water is now provided spring through fall, and livestock use is deferred each year until mid-September, to improve riparian and upland habitat for nesting and brood-rearing by sage-grouse and other wildlife use.

Reconstruction of Wildlife Habitat Riparian Exclosures:  Devon Energy Company paid for a WCC crew and all materials in 2008, and is paying for another WCC crew this year to reconstruct wildlife habitat exclosures around reservoirs dating back to the 1960s. This will address long-term maintenance problems, and provide a small oasis of habitat for sage-grouse and other wildlife in desert environments.

Buck Draw Water Development Project:  This project includes constructing a solar-powered water well, storage tank, and a pipeline system and reservoir maintenance to provide water sources for sage-grouse and other wildlife. BP America, Conoco-Phillips, the South-Central Local Greater Sage-Grouse working group provided funding, the grazing permittee (Bruce Thayer) and BLM provided labor completing the project.

7E Ranch Habitat Enhancement Project:  This project includes constructing several pasture fences, developing or protecting six springs, and one mechanical vegetation treatment to improve livestock management of riparian and upland habitats used by sage-grouse. Partners included Bates Hole/Shirley Basin Local Sage-Grouse working group, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Medicine Bow Conservation District, University of Wyoming students, BLM, and grazing permittees (7E Ranch, 25 Ranch, and Spenrath Ranch). There are several leks within the project area, as well as nesting and brood-rearing habitat, and all of it is designated core area for sage-grouse.

Sixteen Mile Allotment Habitat Enhancement Project:  Four pasture fences and development of 12 springs and seeps, were built and vegetation treatments were used to improve livestock grazing management to benefit sage-grouse and other wildlife. The South-Central Local Sage-Grouse working group, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Anadarko Petroleum Company, Saratoga/Encampment/Rawlins Conservation District, BLM, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the grazing permittee (Espy Livestock Company) all contributed funding and/or labor and materials to complete the projects described. This allotment supports several leks (strutting grounds), as well as extensive nesting and brood-rearing habitat, with about half of the 81,000 acre allotment in the Governor’s designated core area for Greater Sage-Grouse.

Atlantic Rim EIS Monitoring and University of Wyoming / Utah State University Graduate Projects:  As part of the monitoring requirements for the Atlantic Rim EIS ROD, a research project was initiated to identify important greater sage-grouse nesting and brood rearing habitat within the Atlantic Rim area. In 2006, Anadarko and Warren Resources funded a radio collar monitoring study and 100 Greater Sage-Grouse were radio-collared and tracked monthly by fixed wing plane telemetry flights. In 2007, Anadarko/Warren Resources agreed to fund a University of Wyoming graduate student to track the radio-collared sage-grouse and collect vegetation. In 2008, the field work began and BLM purchased both new and replacement collars for the 2009 season. The graduate student is now compiling data and will provide findings in his thesis in support of his master’s degree. Throughout the project, the South-Central Local Greater Sage-Grouse Working Group continued to fund monthly telemetry tracking flights through March of 2010. Additionally, a graduate student from Utah State University also used the Atlantic Rim collared birds as part of a raven predation study funded by the Wyoming Animal Damage Management board, Utah Agriculture Experimental station and the Berryman Institute at Utah State University.

Mapping greater sage-grouse winter habitat within the Atlantic Rim EIS area:  As part of the monitoring requirements for the Atlantic Rim EIS ROD, BLM funding was acquired to map winter concentration areas within the Atlantic Rim Project area. A University of Wyoming student was hired to compile Wyoming Game and Fish Department winter observation data along with BLM grouse flight data to produce a winter sage-grouse concentration map tied to aerial photo maps depicting patches of sagebrush. This information will be used to apply winter timing stipulations within the Atlantic Rim Project area.

Pinedale Field Office - Jonah Interagency Office and Pinedale Anticline Project Office

Pindale FFA students building escape ramps in water tanks and troughs.
Wildlife Escape Ramps:
  Many different wildlife species including birds, bats, and small mammals depend on livestock troughs and tanks for water. However, many of these animals die while trying to drink or bathe in these structures, especially when water levels are low and escape ramps are absent or inadequate. This project will benefit many sensitive species including Greater Sage-Grouse. Over 550 escape ramps need to be fabricated and installed in troughs and tanks throughout the BLM Pinedale Field Office. The escape ramps are designed to touch the side and bottom of the tank so a struggling animal swimming along the perimeter of the tank will blindly find the ramp at all water levels. These structures made of expanded metal and covered with non-toxic rust proof paint are being constructed by the Pinedale High School Future Farmers of America (FFA). About 80 ramps were installed during the summer and fall of 2009. Continuing installation will take place during the spring, summer, and fall of this year and will be completed by FFA students and other volunteers. Installation will involve travelling to the stock tank, drilling a hole in the tank, and attaching the ramp with nuts and bolts. Currently partners working on the installation of the ramps are FFA, the Green River Valley Land Trust (GRVLT), and Pheasants Forever. The Jonah Interagency Office funded the project at $36,500.00.

Strutting sage-grouse.
JIO – Pinedale Field Office:
  The Jonah Interagency Mitigation and Reclamation Office (JIO) was created by the Jonah Project Record of Decision (ROD) signed on March 14, 2006 to provide overall management of field monitoring and on- and off-site mitigation activities associated with development of the Jonah Field south of Pinedale, Wyo. To perform these functions, the JIO manages a $24.5 million monitoring and mitigation fund committed by EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), Inc. ($21.5 million) and BP America Production Company ($3 million). To date, JIO has funded or committed funding to 22 all of which have targets of mitigation for species impacted in the Jonah Field, and the majority of which have positive benefits to sage-grouse. Projects range from conservation easements to vegetative treatments and this office has directly affected over 600,000 acres. Specific projects entail such things as grazing management (seasonal deferment), water projects to benefit livestock distribution with fenced out “wet” areas for wildlife, vegetation improvements/enhancements, fencing to improve livestock distribution and allow for rotation of animals, and inventory efforts examining habitat conditions and/or fencing needs (along with appropriate modifications) in important wildlife migration corridors.

Rock Springs Field Office

Sage-grouse hen captured and fitted with radio-transmitter.
Prescribed burn.
Greater Sage-Grouse Collaring and Distribution Study:
  Questar assisted the Colorado Division of Wildlife with funding for a Greater Sage-Grouse Global Positioning System collaring and distribution study in the Hiawatha Gas Development Area of Wyoming. This study led to a greater understanding of sage-grouse use of the area and their migration between Wyoming and Colorado. Several new leks have been identified. A distribution/frequency of use map of the area has been created for use in land management decisions.

Fuels:  Prescribed fire has been used to enhance important sage-grouse habitat in the Rock Springs Field Office. For example, approximately 9,127 acres of sagebrush/grass, mountain shrub and aspen vegetation types were treated using fire in Salt Wells Basin, conducted in the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007. A fine–grained mosaic of small burned patches in large sagebrush areas was accomplished. Improvements to early and late brood rearing habitat were achieved while retaining existing nesting opportunity.