Fostering resources in Crook County: Crook County Natural Resource District focuses on water, forest health
Sundance – For many years, Crook County’s Natural Resource District (CCNRD) has worked with ranchers, farmers and other landowners in two areas – water quality and forest health.
With a small staff and numerous partners, CCNRD is able to make dramatic progress towards improving water quality and forest health.
Staff and board
Day-to-day, CCNRD is run by Raesha Sell, who serves as office manager. Sarah Anderson coordinates the forest health program, while Carmen Horne-McIntyre coordinates the water quality program.
“We work really well as a team,” Sell says. “Our board of supervisors manage the direction of the district by being a voice for the county and the land.
The board of supervisors is chaired by Wayne Garman, an area producer.
“Wayne is very dedicated to CCNRD and knowledgeable about natural resource concerns,” she explains. “We’re really fortunate to have Wayne as chairman.”
“We also have four other members on our board, and all of them represent the county well.” She continues. “Ted Parsons is our vice chairman, Jennifer Hinkhouse is our secretary, Wanda Burget is our treasurer and Lily Altaffer is our member representative.”
“Many conservation districts across the state are funded by mill levies,” says Sell. “Unfortunately, we do not have mill levy funding, so most of our funding comes from grants.”
As a result, the grants dictate what programming can be offered.
“We also receive funding from the county commissioners each year, which helps us maintain the office as we apply for additional grant funding,” she says.
Across the state, Crook County’s forest health program is well known for its work to restore forests that were impacted by mountain pine beetles.
“The goal of our forestry program is to establish resilient forests within Crook County. We want our forests to be resilient in the face of a natural phenomenon, such as pest infestations and fires,” Sell explains.
CCNRD applies for grants to offer cost assistance on forest thinning, fire fuels reduction and mountain pine beetle mitigation.
“Reducing fire fuel is similar to thinning, but it’s more extensive,” Sell says. “The trees have to be spaced farther apart, and we ensure that there’s no litter on the forest floor.”
Additionally, CCNRD also seeks to establish fuel breaks around homes and buildings.
“The mountain pine beetle infestation was pretty apparent in the Black Hills area,” Sell continues. “We have done extensive work to mitigate the mountain pine beetle, and it’s apparent how effective our pine beetle program has been in saving trees.”
CCNRD has also worked with the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service to manage pine beetles.
“We have a memorandum of understanding with those groups, so we can share costs and resources to manage these forests,” Sell says.
The district has been awarded numerous grants and has spent several million dollars towards improving the health of our forests.
“Since we’ve done a lot of work to mitigate the threats of the beetle, we are now focusing on establishing resilient forests to reduce the threat of future epidemics,” Sell says. “This program continues to grow as people realize the value of trees, and Sarah Anderson continues to find funding to facilitate forest health improvement programs.”
In addition to the forestry program, CCNRD has established a robust water quality program that works to monitor the Belle Fourche River and Donkey Creek for the E. coli impairment.
“Both of the waters are impaired for E. coli and are listed on the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s 303(d) list of impaired waters,” Sell says. “We monitor the waters for E. coli, total coliform, chloride and ammonia.”
CCNRD receives grant funding to provide cost assistance to landowners, which goes toward water developments, including drilling wells and installing pipelines and tire tanks for efficient livestock watering.
“We try to disperse water throughout private property to improve rangeland health and utilization,” she explains. “We’re trying to encourage livestock and wildlife to use those water tanks instead of the river.”
Sell continues, “Our monitoring goes hand-in-hand with water projects, and we’re hoping to see a reduction in E. coli numbers by providing off-stream watering sources.”
A unique program CCNRD offers is an electronic recycling program.
“We work with a certified recycling company out of Denver, Colo. who dismantles and recycles all of the components that make up the electronic device. The recycling program consists of an annual recycling event where individuals bring their unwanted electronics – whether it be TVs, phones, microwaves, etc. – to be properly recycled. This past year, we collected 9,000 pounds of electronic waste. ”
CCNRD partners in each town in Crook County helps pay for the costs.
They also focus on outreach through a variety of education programs.
“We try to provide education to ranchers to support them in their work,” Sell says. “Attendance at our soil health workshops has been unbelievable. We have had between 30 and 50 producers at most of our workshops. Producers are hungry for more education and information.”
For more information on CCNRD, call 307-283-2870, ext. 4.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.