WLCI’s conservation efforts continue in southwest Wyoming
Lander – The Wyoming Land Conservation Initiative (WLCI) holds the unique ability to develop conservation programs across public and private boundaries to improve habitats in southwest Wyoming.
“The first goal of WLCI is to enhance, improve or maintain habitats and the second is to support sustainable agriculture,” said Justin Caudill, agriculture program coordinator for WLCI at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, at the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and Society for Range Management Joint Convention on Nov. 17.
The program focuses on four types of habitat areas: aspen, mountain shrub, sagebrush and riparian and aquatic.
“We are concerned with fragmentation of migration corridors and the consequences of development within those communities,” explained Caudill. “We have four local project development teams that try to develop holistic projects and inform everyone so we aren’t duplicating efforts.”
The group is in its fifth year and hopes to continue program efforts into the future.
Mary Thoman, chairman of the WLCI executive committee, noted that WLCI is unique in its origin. “This is one of the federal initiatives that came together as a result of people in Wyoming with an idea. We asserted our rights to be included and involved.”
WLCI consists of a partnership of federal, state and local governments, as well as landowners and private entities, which work to address conservation needs. The BLM is the project lead, with the U.S. Geological Survey serving as the science lead. Other partner agencies include the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), Wyoming Department of Agriculture, local conservation districts and county governments.
“Anyone can be a partner,” said Caudill. “Anyone who lives or works in the WLCI area is welcome to participate – that’s our only requirement.”
Currently WLCI focuses its efforts in southwest Wyoming, and with a recent expansion to include all of Carbon County the group now works on more than 19 million acres.
“There is potential to expand into the rest of Fremont County, as well,” said Caudill, “But there are limiting factors, and one of those is money.”
Because resources are limited, WLCI makes every effort to cost share projects and utilize grant money.
“There are very few things that WLCI pays for by itself. We are really big on leveraging our resources,” Caudill explained, adding that the group works to apply for grants and obtain money for all projects.
“We want to be strategic about how we address issues,” said Caudill. “We pinpoint where it makes sense to spend our money.”
Coordination teams across southwest Wyoming identify areas were conservation efforts are needed and prioritize those ideas before bringing them to the executive committee. Projects are then ranked on a point scale and selected for implementation.
The group strives to make sure all hurdles are jumped before initiating projects, including opening lines of communication with direct partner agencies and ensuring that a list of standards is met.
Since its initiation in 2007, the program has continued to evolve to best address the needs of Wyoming communities.
“In 2007, we started funding projects through a line item in the BLM budget. We funded projects with over $400,000. In 2008, we started with coordination development teams,” said Caudill. “Over the last five years, WLCI has brought in over $5 million, and we have partnered that with $30.8 million from other sources.”
“Almost six dollars for every dollar from WLCI is matched from other monies,” continued Caudill. “We have completed 57 projects, 24 of which are multi-year, continuing projects. For 2012, we have been working on 21 newly proposed projects.”
Caudill described several projects that WLCI has been working on, including the Wyoming Aspen Treatment project, Baggs Deer Crossing project and invasive species removal.
“The Wyoming Aspen Treatment project involved the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, BLM, WGFD, Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust Fund, private landowners and permittees on federal lands,” said Caudill. “We have scheduled for 10,000 acres of conifer removal where the conifers have encroached on aspens.”
Caudill mentioned that the biomass removed from the forest will be used by various entities, and, for this project, the ability of WLCI to cross private boundaries was very important.
The Baggs Deer Crossing project was the first crossing project, implemented in 2009.
“Due to energy development, there was an awful lot of deer killed on that road,” explained Caudill. “They envisioned up to four wildlife underpasses. This is a case where energy development roads and housing have changed how wildlife migrate.”
The underpasses help to facilitate movement of deer under roads, rather than across them.
WLCI is also involved in the wildlife friendly fencing project led by the Wyoming Land Trust in Sublette County.
“Fences are an impediment to wildlife migration. The fencing has been replaced to allow for the passage of antelope,” said Caudill.
Invasive species are of continuing concern to WLCI, with the group targeting cheatgrass in Boulder and Dalmatian toadflax and Dyer’s woad on Raymond Mountain.
“In treating Raymond Mountain, we hope to improve migration of elk and deer. It keeps them from coming down into the valleys and cuts down on interaction to reduce transmission of brucellosis,” explained Caudill.
The group is also working on pre-emptive strikes against potentially problematic species in Lincoln and Sweetwater counties.
Caudill said, “Russian olive and tamarisk are not a problem now, but they have the potential to be a major problem. If we take care of it now, we are going to be able to control it better.”
Of the projects conducted by WLCI, a number of successes have been seen, largely due to the level of cooperation between governments and Wyoming citizens.
“It is easier to accomplish goals when groups get together,” commented Thoman. “We are going after the same projects. We can see the big picture all of a sudden and how the projects fit together on a landscape scale to better leverage our money and make the habitat better.”
Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.