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Wildlife

Pinedale – The Sublette County Advisory Committee of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) is getting down to the nitty-gritty with ongoing discussions about the future of the county’s three wilderness study areas.

A Feb. 21 meeting of the group led to a working proposal for the Scab Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA), a “national conservation area” with management prescriptions for the Bureau of Land Management to follow, pending answers to a question about whether or not grazing permittees might be affected in the future.

The group also discussed the Lake Mountain WSA, opting to continue discussions about the Shoal Creek WSA – the most contentious of the WSAs being considered – at future meetings.

Scab Creek

The Scab Creek WSA sits east of Boulder, and members of the public familiar with the area shared their insights on the WSA during the meeting, noting access to the area is extremely difficult at best on foot or horseback.

Cotton Bousman of Eastfork Livestock Inc. in Boulder, noted “a sad decline” in the Bridger Wilderness surrounding the WSA, with old signs gone and trails impassable. His family owns private ranch lands near the WSA and grazes cattle above Scab Creek.

“It can take a full day to go two miles to get cattle out of there,” he said of the WSA, adding, “It’s a de facto wilderness.”

As chair of the Pinedale Grazing Board, Bousman said, “We have extensive wilderness discussions. The position of the Wyoming State Grazing Board would be to either make it wilderness or release it back to multiple-use.”

Proposals

Amid tense discussions, Sublette County Conservation District Member Mike Henn offered one proposal, commenting, “Turn it all back as a ‘soft release’ for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to run under its resource management plan.”

A “soft release” would mean it could be reintroduced for wilderness, while a “hard release” means it goes back to BLM’s current management.

Henn suggested having “no surface occupancy” and leaving the trails and roads open in a soft release.

Concerns from recreation members on the board included potential lack of access, as the WSA is only accessible through private land. 

Dave Bell, general public member, spoke up, saying, “I’ve gone around and around like a cat chasing its tail on Scab Creek, from 100-percent wilderness to a hard release. I’m still undecided. The only thing that makes sense to me is a national conservation area with prescriptive management. It would be a gain for everybody and satisfy a lot of concerns. I really struggle with this one personally.”

Decision

Coke Landers, who represents agriculture on the committee, asked Henn about “legal ins and outs” of how permittees might be affected in the long run with prescriptive management. “I want to make sure it’s in order.”

“We’ll have the same kind of questions for each WSA,” Henn agreed, adding the sole Scab Creek grazing allotment is currently vacant.

Steve Smutko of USFS, who serves as facilitator, asked if the committee was willing to move forward with the “middle” management prescription proposal until they get a clear answer to that question.

“We’ve had the most constructive, fluid conversation of the three proposals on proposal three,” Landers agreed.

Lake Mountain

Moving on to the Lake Mountain WSA, an emphasis on give and take by all members of the group was heard.

Previously, co-chair Dan Smitherman, conservation member, proposed adding 5,500 acres of adjacent “land with wilderness characteristics” to the Lake Mountain WSA, commenting, “We’re missing an opportunity with the land outside Lake Mountain even though it’s not part of the WSA.”

Bill Lanning, motorized recreation member of the group, outlined “a national conservation area (NCA) designation versus the current Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)” to protect a pure strain of Colorado cutthroat trout in the Rock Creek drainage. 

His proposal included adjusting the NCA boundary to “hydrographic breaks,” not allowing off-highway vehicles or mountain bike use, withdrawing mineral entry, not permitting new surface disturbance or new oil and gas leases, only allowing directional drilling from existing oil and gas leases outside the boundary, keeping it open to hunting and fishing and allowing no road or motorized fire trails, no vegetation treatments except those that maintain or benefit the Colorado cutthroat trout habitat and population and no geophysical exploration.

For the rest of the WSA, Lanning proposed a “hard release,” meaning it could not be re-designated for wilderness and recommended making it the Lake Mountain Management Area.

Reactions

The group agreed on Rock Creek protections, but Mike Smith, a member of the group representing the energy industry, said, “I didn’t see anything that justifies any kind of strong preventative protective management. I don’t think we plop a wilderness area next to a historic gas field, but I’m comfortable making some sort of designation on Rock Creek.”

“There are 14,000 acres protected here as a WSA,” Smitherman said. “So now I’ve lost 9,000 acres of protected land without any gains in the region.”

After more back and forth, Smutko paused the discussion, saying, “I want this committee to continue with this. Lake Mountain is at a good holding point.”

Joy Ufford is a reporter for the Pinedale Roundup and Sublette Examiner and writes for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Thunder Basin Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association (TBGPEA) was formed in 1999 with a focus on black-tailed prairie dogs, but the organization has expanded its reach to focus on a wide variety of species.

“When we were formed, there was a lot of interest in the Thunder Basin National Grassland associated with the plan revisions for the Forest Service,” says Dave Pellatz, executive director for TBGPEA. “The group got together to look at issues of conservation, particularly related to prairie dogs.”

Organization today

Today, TBGPEA, a 501(c)3 corporation, includes 15 coal members, including 12 Powder River Basin mines, one oil and gas member and 24 ranch members, but in the beginning, the landowner-led initiative faced some obstacles.

In the formative years for TBGPEA, Pellatz notes that landowners had a large land base, but they didn’t necessarily have the funding to put conservation measures in place. 

“Our early discussions with energy companies in the area were that they wanted to look at conservation options. They didn’t have the land, but they have the ability to provide funding,” he continues. “That is how our partnership started.”

Wide-reaching impacts

TBGPEA’s members now partner with between 50 and 60 organizations across 13.2 million acres to accomplish their goals.

The land is 77 percent privately owned, with eight percent owned by the state of Wyoming, seven percent owned by the U.S. Forest Service and eight percent owned by BLM.

“This group is driven by private landowners,” Pellatz adds. “We also work with a lot of federal agencies because of the nature of the landscape.”

He notes that, though there is not the checkerboard situation seen in southwest Wyoming, a large amount of federal land sits in the northeast corner of the state. 

“The Forest Service lands up here tends to be more blocked, but there are private inholdings as well,” Pellatz says. “Our projects are primarily done on the private lands of our members, but we have put several projects in place on federal lands as well.”

Conservation focus

The major focus of TBGPEA has been development of their conservation strategy – a document that will be affective for at least 30 years. 

The conservation strategy focuses on habitat conservation efforts to protect species of concern.

It also provides property owners appropriate assurances or certainty that no additional regulatory requirements will be imposed should the covered species be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

With its unique make-up and ability to work across landscapes, TBGPEA is uniquely poised to address the difficulties often seen in conservation.

“One of the hiccups we have seen in conservation is that invasive species and habitats don’t stop at the fence line when they hit federal lands,” Clark McCreedy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues. “One of the striking features of this conservation strategy is that we can work cooperatively to achieve the greatest good. We can work across these lines.”

Across boundaries

“TGBPEA can look over the large landscape and ask, ‘Where should we prioritize our efforts?’” McCreedy adds, noting that it is also important to work across both public and private lands. 

The Memorandums of Understanding with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have allowed the groups to work together strategically. However, the amount of time and effort that have been spent on developing these relationships has been substantial.

“Facilitating partnerships and projects, regardless of the landscape, is important,” Pellatz says. 

Species of concern

Though the organization started with a focus on black-tailed prairie dogs, Pellatz notes, “As things changed and other species became more prominent, as far as listing decisions and species of concern, we identified almost 1,000 species that we could work on. That is unwieldy, so over a period of time, we decided to focus on a representative set of species in the sagebrush steppe and the shortgrass prairie.”

In each ecosystem type, TBGPEA focuses on conservation of four primary species, for a total of eight species of concern – black-tailed prairie dogs, mountain plover, burrowing owl, Ferruginous hawk, Greater sage grouse, Brewer’s sparrow, sage sparrow and sage thrasher.

“We have developed a list of conservation measures for each species,” Pellatz explains. “There are over 170 measures with the majority focusing on the sagebrush species.”

Pellatz continues that TBGPEA partners with many organizations to accomplish their work – which ranges from invasive species work to monitoring information.

Partners

With mixed ownership of their lands, Pellatz adds that the surface and subsurface ownership of the land means that partnerships have been even more important. 

“We applaud our energy partners for putting conservation on the ground,” Pellatz says. 

McCreedy adds, “These energy companies have really been making conservation happen. Their commitment to conservation is above and beyond the statutory requirements of their reclamation.”

With a focus on conservation today and moving 10 to 20 years into the future, Pellatz notes that TBGPEA’s strategy is one that looks for a way to work with partners to accomplish conservation goals.

“We are looking to cross private and public lands, which makes for a very strong conservation strategy,” Pellatz says. “TBGPEA’s strategy is designed to work with the issues that we face in northeast Wyoming, and we are anxious to continue working into the future.”

Long-term approach

“We are taking a very long-term approach, and our focus over the last five years has been getting these agreements in place,” Pellatz says. “We are hoping to have the Environmental Assessment and the final documents signed by September 2015.”

McCreedy notes that the long-term view that TBGPEA has taken is particularly notable. 

He comments, “TBGPEA has taken, in my view, a holistic, very reasonable approach to land management in looking at how we sustain the health of lands and continued multiple use of lands for the future.”

Success story

In developing their collaborative conservation effort, the Thunder Basin Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association has accomplished a number of conservation efforts. 

The association has invested $2.8 million to enhance sagebrush and shortgrass habitats. 

They have also developed 3,900 acres of enhanced nesting cover in sage grouse core areas, and 35,000 acres have been treated for cheatgrass. They have mapped 1.7 million acres of sagebrush as well. 

Additionally, monitoring has been accomplished on 835 vegetation transects, along with small mammal and breeding bird surveys and raptor nest searches, as well as sage grouse telemetry and lek cameras. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The future of the Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) being contemplated now by a citizens’ committee has ranged over the past year from members wanting to designate the entire parcel as wilderness to “no new wilderness” – or something in between.

And even what is meant by “something in between” is strongly debated at each meeting of the Sublette Wyoming Public Lands Initiative’s (WPLI) advisory committee, which is reviewing three stalled WSA designations to recommend their future management – Shoal Creek, Scab Creek and Lake Mountain.

The advisory committee has recognized in its months of public meetings that compromises are needed to reach consensus – that any “all or nothing” solutions of total wilderness or full release would not be accepted. 

County perspective

At the Sublette WPLI’s Feb. 7 meeting, two county officials – one a liaison and the other a committee member – related their departments’ written state and federal public-lands policies speak against approving more wilderness and for traditional and modern-day multiple uses.

Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman, the county’s WPLI liaison, told the committee he isn’t sure his board will approve any Shoal Creek recommendation that adds designated “wilderness” to the existing Gros Ventre Wilderness. 

The Shoal Creek WSA is located east of Bondurant in the Hoback Basin.

Many on the committee were unaware of the 2009 Sublette County Federal and State Land Use Policy, which states, “No additional federal lands in Sublette County are suitable for wilderness designation other than the vast expanse of existing wilderness areas in the county. Sublette County opposes any such further designations.”

“I took it to the other commissioners to ask, if this committee’s proposal contains any wilderness, will they entertain it?” Bousman said. “The message they left me with is, ‘We, the commission, will take it under consideration.’ At a minimum, they need the strong support of this board.”

Public support

If there is strong public support for new wilderness in Sublette County, that would be taken into account, Bousman added.

The Sublette WPLI committee’s eight members represent motorized and nonmotorized recreation, conservation, agriculture and ranching, sportsmen, energy, conservation district and general public interests and groups.

Most of the Shoal Creek WSA falls within Sublette County but about 11,000 acres is in Teton County. That county’s WPLI 21-member advisory group, with conservation groups from the local, state and national levels, also has made proposals. 

Earlier this year, for example, Teton WPLI “general public” member Rob Shaul proposed the entire Shoal Creek WSA be designated as wilderness, according to the Sublette advisory committee.

Conservation district perspective

Sublette County Conservation District manager Mike Henn, who is on the advisory committee, also related that he took a Shoal Creek WSA map with added wilderness along the Gros Ventre Wilderness’s south boundary to his elected board of supervisors.

That board is very reluctant to add wilderness or do anything with WSAs other than seek full release back to Forest Service multiple-use management, he said.

The SCCD policy states in part, “Sublette County supports the expeditious resolution of pending congressional wilderness designation proposals for BLM WSAs in Sublette County and supports the release of WSAs not recommended for wilderness designation from non-impairment management. There shall be no protective perimeters or buffer zones around wilderness areas.”

“They voted, 4-1, to support their policy statement – no new wilderness in the county,” Henn said. “That’s where I have to sit. If it comes to a vote, I will take it back to this board.”

Perspectives

WPLI Member Monte Skinner commented, “We’re not trying to add new wilderness, are we? If we move the wilderness boundary, that becomes part of the Gros Ventre Wilderness?

“It’s within the WSA, but it would be new wilderness,” Bill Lanning, another member, explained.

General public member Dave Bell reminded the committee there is more acceptance to extend wilderness of about 5,400 acres from the current boundary west to the Elbow, a feature of the Gros Ventre Range.

Lanning said his motorized recreation group would support that move and would also like to see the Forest Service reopen “closed roads” in the Hoback Basin.

Then Coke Landers, ag and ranching committee member and co-chair, reported he attended the Feb. 6 meeting of the Hoback Cattle Association whose members hold Forest Service grazing permits in the Hoback Basin, including in the Shoal Creek WSA.

The permittees were presented with the concept of an extended designated wilderness portion along the current Gros Ventre Wilderness boundary and protecting the rest with a national recreation area designation with grazing and other multiple uses written in.

“Permittees unanimously voted ‘no new wilderness or designation,’” said Landers. “That’s my constituency.”

Decisions

Facilitator Steve Smutko reminded the committee, “As we work together and figure out compromises, we are often outpacing your constituents. Once we make that agreement, how does this committee see that through and commit to it?”

He asked them to take the day’s discussions back to their constituents.

“That’s putting a big target on our backs,” Landers commented.

Smutko said if they compromise and agree on a Shoal Creek WSA proposal, “Then, it’s up to this committee to support it, if they think it’s right.”

Other designations

There was much more discussion about a possible “national recreation area” designation. Smitherman said he wanted to see a proposal that will protect all three WSAs’ values.

“Let’s call it a special management area,” Smitherman said. “I’m not hung up on what we call it.”

Chad Hayward of the U.S. Forest Service explained his lack of experience with special management areas, but that it can be written to include and protect numerous interests. The Forest Service is just beginning its new Bridger-Teton National Forest plan, which might bring changes to the status quo, he added.

The statewide initiative was kick-started by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and signed onto by the Sublette Board of County Commissioners. Commissioners must approve each WSA’s management recommendations before they are packaged for possible legislation before Congress. 

Many WSAs across the West have languished since being “inventoried” as potential wilderness several decades ago by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

The Sublette WPLI advisory committee meets again on Feb. 21 and March 7, 1-5 p.m. at the Sublette County Weed and Pest Office. For more information, go to sublettewpli.com.

Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and reporter for the Sublette Examiner and Pinedale Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

“Worldwide, there are about 20,000 species of bees,” notes UW Extension Educator Tina Russell.

There are nearly 4,000 species of native bees in the United States.

Pollinators

“Bees are important pollinators,” Russell continues. “They actively collect nectar and pollen. Nectar is their energy source, and pollen is their protein.”

About one in three mouthfuls of food, either bites or drinks, are a result of pollination.

“If we didn’t have pollinators, our diet would be very minimal and less varied,” she explains.

Scientists and researchers predict that wind-pollinated plants, such as grain crops, would still persist as a food supply without pollinators, but there would be much less variety in our diets.

“The estimated dollar value of pollinated crops is $217 billion, worldwide,” she comments.

Pollinators include bats, birds, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies and even lemurs.

“Lemurs are animals that pass plants and accidentally pollinate other flowers,” Russell says.

Adaptations

Physical and behavioral characteristics of bees make them some of the most efficient pollinators in the ecosystem.

“Bees have adapted to the flowers. They are able to fit inside and move pollen around to other flowers,” notes Russell.

Bees also have hairy bodies that trap pollen on their legs, backs and abdomens.

“A lot of bees also have the ability to buzz pollinate. They crawl into the flower and use their leg muscles to vibrate the flower and shake the pollen loose,” she says.

Although honeybees do not have this ability, bumblebees and many native species use buzz pollination.

Preferred plants

“Many species have a generalist feeding pattern, which means that they visit a lot of different flowers,” Russell adds.

Although some species are specialists that only visit specific plant types, many of them contribute to pollination on a large, broad scale.

“They also have flower consistency on foraging trips,” she says.

This means that insects may target a specific plant when they leave the hive or nest. After they return to drop off the pollen and nectar, they may target a different plant on the next trip.

“Flower consistency is something characteristic of bees, and it really helps with pollination,” she explains.

Populations

Studies have shown a noticeable decline in commercial honeybee populations, which are European bees that are not native to the U.S.

“Populations have been declining since about 1980, and crop production has been declining due to a lack of pollination since about 1990,” Russell comments.

There were approximately 5.9 million honeybee hives in 1947, and there are only about 2.5 million today.

“These are just honeybees or commercial bees managed in croplands. This doesn’t account for native bees,” she adds.

There has been less research concerning native species, but evidence shows that their populations may be threatened as well, and researchers have identified a number of different factors.

“One of the biggest impacts is habitat loss,” says Russell.

Large bees, which travel further than smaller species, cover foraging ranges from one to three miles.

“It is hard for them when they have habitat loss, fragmentation and fewer nesting options,” Russell continues.

Scientists believe that climate change and pesticides may also be contributing factors.

Proactive measures

To encourage increased populations, Russell notes, “There are four things we can all do.”

Learning to recognize pollinators and their habitat, protecting habitat, providing new or enhancing existing habitat and adapting long-term management practices are Russell’s suggestions for promoting pollinators.

“Generalists, like the honeybees and bumblebees, have longer lifespans and can live four to five months,” she says. “We want to plant plants that bloom throughout the growing season.”

Specialists, or bees that concentrate on specific plant types, may only harvest pollen and nectar for five or six weeks.

“We will focus on different plants and different bloom periods,” she continues in reference to different bee varieties.

Bee nesting

Nesting requirements are another habitat consideration, as some bees nest in the ground and others prefer a cavity or wood.

“It depends on what kind of bees we have and what kind we want to attract,” she says.

Leaving sandy, uncovered dirt patches attracts some species, while green grass and shrubbery attracts others.

“If we have some old standing trees in our yard, we can drill holes in them to create habitat,” she suggests, “or if there is a place where woodpeckers have been and we leave that alone, it is beneficial for bees.”

More attractive plant species include those in the buckwheat family, lupine, roses, apples and carrots.

“A lot of bees also like herbs such as rosemary, thyme and mint,” Russell adds.

Farm practices

On the farm, hedgerows, windbreaks, native plants and weeds such as clover are beneficial to native bees.

“If we are able to use green manures or ground cover, these provide erosion control as well as food for pollinators,” she describes.

She also encourages allowing for riparian buffers along streams.

“This is good for erosion control, water quality and the pollinators,” she adds.

Reducing pesticides and herbicides, providing a diversity of agricultural and native plants and reduced mowing can also encourage increased populations.

“Our farming and ranching practices affect pollinators. Some of them we can’t avoid, but there are some things we can do to promote positive habitat for pollinators,” Russell says.

Tina Russell spoke at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days in Riverton on Feb. 12.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As summer storms mix with spells of hot, dry weather, many Wyoming landowners are concerned about wildfire threats to forests and rangeland.

Wyoming State Forestry Division Assistant State Forester and Fire Management Officer Anthony Schultz explains the 2017 wildfire outlook and resources Wyomingites can use to stay updated on fire hazards.

Outlook

Using multiple predictive tools, Schultz comments that the wildfire outlook for Wyoming this fire season is “average.”

“However, that being said, average doesn’t mean there’s no threat of fires,” he cautions.

During the month of July, Schultz explains there is an elevated fire danger in south-central Wyoming near the Medicine Bow area, as well as in the northeast portion of the state in the Black Hills area.

Most of the state, however, received enough moisture throughout the spring to be forecasted as an average fire danger.

“Folks need to note we’re still going to have fires, and they need to be cognizant about their fire use,” comments Schultz.

Factors

Weather patterns are a primary factor that influence the wildfire outlook, explains Schultz.

“Weather has the biggest impact on wildfires, including how quickly fuels dry out, how hot it gets and how windy it stays,” states Schultz. “All of those factors combine to help us determine our fire danger prediction or outlook for the season.”

The hot, dry weather seen last year resulted in 2016 being the second busiest wildland fire season for the state on record.

“Last year, we had a really wet spring season, but the water just kind of shut off,” he says. “When I say shut off, I mean we stopped getting the amount of moisture that was predicted. We got the hot weather but not the moisture, and it caused some problems.”

This year, weather predictions were that it would be wet, which was seen through much of the state into the beginning of June.

“We’re only seeing our first major fires here starting now with the Keystone fire,” Schultz comments.

Predicting

The wildfire outlook for the season is determined using the National Fire Danger Rating System, says Schultz.

“It takes into account elevations, fuel, moisture, the wind speed, slope, aspect and a whole bunch of different factors, both meteorological and topographical,” he explains. “It combines them to determine an algorithm for fire danger.”

While there is very little human input, Schultz notes weather forecasting impacts the short-term fire forecast.

“If the forecasters say, ‘It’s going to be wet today,’ the algorithm takes that into account,” he comments.

Schultz continues, “Now, weather forecasts can be wrong, which affects fire behavior because weather is a little unpredictable, but we work with the tools we have available to us at the time.”

Fire activity

According to Schultz, fire activity in the state is consistent with patterns typically observed in Wyoming.

“We are getting fires. We’re getting a lot of initial attacks, which means a lot of starts and small fires,” he says. “Some of those are due to lightning, and some are human caused.”

However, compared to 2016, the 2017 fire season is down on the number of fires and down on the number of acres burned so far.

“Where we are now is not a good predictor going forward, though,” comments Schultz. “If we stop getting rain and continue to be hot and dry, we could see a year just like last year.”

He notes there has been a considerable amount of fire activity in Crook and Weston counties, as well as increasing attacks in Campbell and Washakie counties, but so far, those fires have been more easily contained.

“Our real problem fire and first one thus far is the Keystone fire,” he says, noting the fire is currently being managed by a type two incident management team.

The Keystone fire involved 2,305 acres and was approximately 24 percent contained, as of July 14.

“We have 554 personnel on that fire. It’s solely on Forest Service ground, but it’s threatening private land and private structures, so Wyoming State Forestry is involved,” Schultz explains.

He continues, “Compared to last year, our fire season has been relatively quiet, and hopefully, it will stay that way.”

Resources

“If anyone has questions about current fires or ongoing incidences, both in the state and around the nation, the National Situation Report in an invaluable tool,” says Schultz.

The report can be accessed at nifc.gov/nicc and landowners can select the Rocky Mountain Geographic Area Coordination Center on the map.

“The National Situation Report give the breakdown of the fires in our area. A lot of the fires burning in our area right now are in Colorado, with the Keystone fire burning in southern Wyoming,” he comments.

Schultz continues, “As far as fire danger goes, folks can look at our state forestry division website at wsfd.wyo.gov to see current fire bans.”

As a fire danger forecast, Schultz also notes that the Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS) is another invaluable resource, which can be found at wfas.net.

“WFAS pulls up a couple different pictures that are updated once a day for that specific day and the next day detailing current fire danger,” he concludes.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..