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Wyoming Game and Fish report details how $10.5M in habitat projects benefits 800+ wildlife species

In the Casper Region, wildlife friendly fencing was added in the Chalk Mountain area to help improve pronghorn movement. (Wyoming Game and Fish)

CASPER, Wyo. — With help from some conservation partners, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department invested $10.5 million into aquatic and terrestrial habitat projects in 2021.

On Monday, Game and Fish released its 2021 Statewide Habitat Plan Annual Report detailing the projects and how they help over 800 wildlife species in Wyoming.

Game and Fish allocated over $2.5 million toward habitat projects to leverage over $8 million from the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resources Trust Fund, federal and state funds and private landowners and local conservation partners.

“That is equivalent to $3.16 coming from external partners for every Game and Fish dollar allocated,” Game and Fish said. “Through these funds, Game and Fish executed 226 projects in 2021.”

Game and Fish highlighted projects that reconnected over 94 miles of stream to benefit native cutthroat and other species.

“Reconnecting streams so fish can navigate past road crossings and diversion dams is one of the most important ways we can ensure fish populations continue to thrive,” said Paul Dey, Game and Fish statewide aquatic habitat manager. “When we combine fish passage work with improving stream habitat conditions, we begin to make a real and lasting difference.”  

Terrestrial projects involved work on 725,896 acres of land. Examples included herbicide treatments to prevent the spread of invasive grass. Game and Fish said 100,278 acres were treated in 2021, up about 18% from 2020.

In the Casper Region, the report from Game and Fish details the following habitat projects:

  • Thunder Basin Habitat Improvement:
    • 12 miles of fencing were retrofitted with wildlife-friendly fencing.
    • 3.5 miles of fencing were marked for sage grouse in central grasslands.
    • 4,675 acres were sprayed to prevent the growth of cheatgrass after the Cellars Fire, and about 10,000 sagebrush plants were planted in fall 2021.
    • Funding partners included: National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Sage-Grouse Local Working Groups, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Game and Fish Invasive Annual Grass Fund.
  • Stockade Beaver Creek Conifer Removal
    • Stockade Beaver Creek in Weston County is a major mule deer migration route, according to Game and Fish.
    • Transitional and winter habitat is threatened by coniferous trees encroaching into mesic meadows and mountain shrub communities.
    • Much of the true mountain mahogany in the area is mature and decadent.
    • Game and Fish worked with Wyoming State Forestry and private landowners to thin areas becoming dominated by coniferous plants.
    • Stands of decadent and mature true mountain mahogany were mowed.
    • Phase 1 was completed in 2018 and involved conifer removal and thinning and mahogany mastication on 492 acres.
    • Phase 2 started in spring 2019 and through the time of the report, 765 acres of conifer removal and thinning had been completed.
    • Work will continue through winter 2022.
    • Funding source: Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust
  • Sanchez Creek Riparian Restoration
    • 4,870 feet of steel jack fencing was constructed along the creek in 2021, the second installment of fencing in the area.
    • More fencing is expected to be added in 2022 along with conifer removal from deeper-soil areas. Zeedyk structure construction to help heal erosion and restore headcuts is also part of the project.
  • North Platte Restoration Monitoring
    • The City of Casper began efforts to restore sections of the river at seven restoration sites with help from various partners.
    • Restoration along the river was completed at Morad Park in 2015 and at Wyoming Boulevard and Water Treatment Sites in 2016.
    • Monitoring plan was developed in 2017 to monitor:
      • Improvement and stability of stream channel characteristics
      • Enhancement of fisheries
      • Restoration of native vegetation
    • Monitoring is occurring over five years.
    • Steam channel dimension, BANCS assessment, structural assessment and photopoints were collected around Morad Park and the Wyoming Boulevard/Water Treatment plant reaching in 2021.
    • Data will be compiled and analyzed into a final monitoring report in 2022.
  • North Platte River Erosion Assessment Phase 2
    • 12-mile reach from Government Bridge to Sechrist boat ramp was assessed for riverbank erosion and excessive sediment that can lead to unfavorable fish spawning conditions.
    • 23 eroding banks were assessed and 50,700 tons of sediment were estimated to be entering the river annually.
    • A total of 113,700 tons, equal to 8,100 dump truck loads, of annual sediment source has been identified between Gray Reef Dam and Sechrist boat ramp.
    • Game and Fish said the next step is to focus restoration efforts on key banks that are eroding.
  • Duncan Ranch State Land Habitat Improvement
    • Final phase of project to cut true mountain mahogany to stimulate new growth was completed in 2021.
    • In previous years, juniper removal, conifer treatment in aspen stands, forb seeding and mountain big sagebrush mowing was conducted.
    • Funding source: Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust
  • Converse County Park Mahogany Rejuvenation
    • Project objective is to treat true mountain mahogany stand with mosaic mowing to reduce total cover from over 50% of the canopy to under 30%.
    • True mountain mahogany will resprout, but a disturbance is needed to prompt this to happen.
    • Lack of disturbance from things like fire is leading to decadence among the stands.
    • Stands are important to big game populations.
    • Mechanical mowing/hand saws were used to treat about 100 acres in 2021 in Converse County Park. That brought the total acreage treated to about 1,000 acres.
    • 50 acres of mountain big sagebrush treatment in snow accumulation areas was also conducted in 2021 to help benefit forbs.
    • Work will continue through 2022.
    • Funding sources: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wyoming Game and Fish Trust Fund.
  • Chalk Mountain Phase II
    • Continuation of Chalk Mountain Pronghorn Fence Project.
    • First phase converted 12 miles of pasture fences to wildlife-friendly standards.
    • Two three-mile segments of fence were converted along Wyoming Highway 487 in Aug. and Sept. 2021.
    • Two additional miles of adjacent pasture fence were also converted.
    • Fences that were converted were selected based on pronghorn movement data.
    • Construction was completed in 2021.
    • GPS collar data is being collected to track pronghorn movement.
    • If desired movement is documented, future projects may be proposed in adjacent pastures.
    • Funding sources: WYDOT, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, Wyoming Game and Fish Trust Fund
  • Bolton Creek Beaver Dam Analog Installation and Monitoring
    • The creek is a heavily degraded watershed that is contributing a lot of sediment to the North Platte River.
    • Restoration efforts over the last decade have included beaver transplants, channel plugs, new beaver dam analogs, riparian plantings and invasive species removal.
    • In 2021, 10 beaver dam analogs were installed upstream of a historic Fetterman DBA site.
      • Untreated fence posts were driven into the creek channel to allow willows to be weaved throughout.
      • Structures will collect sediment, reconnect the channel with the floodplain, help reduce fine sediment deposited into the North Platte River, raise the water table to help riparian vegetation grow and encourage beavers to recolonize.
      • Documentation was collected regarding the shift in the creek channel dimension and the riparian habitat.
    • Six historic BDAs were repaired in 2021 and greenline and lateral riparian transects were conducted.
    • Funding source: Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust
  • Bates Hole Riparian Restoration
    • 250 acres of juniper removal was completed along Bates and Chalk Creek in 2021.
    • 10 beaver dam analogs were constructed in Chalk Creek.
    • 24 miles of salt cedar were inventoried and treated on Bolton Creek with assistance from Weed and Pest.
    • Projects are in a habitat that is Crucial Winter Yearlong range for mule deer and a sage-grouse core habitat.
    • Treatments in 2021 built on a decade of work in the Bates Hole area.
    • Funding sources: Sage Grouse Local Working Group, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Game and Fish Mule Deer Initiative.
  • Bates Hole/Hat Six Mule Deer Initiative Rapid Habitat Assessment
    • Three aspen, nine rangeland and two riparian rapid habitat assessments were completed in the Bates Hole Mule Deer Herd Unit in 2021.
    • Drought conditions led to low herbaceous vegetation production in 2021.
    • Data collected over five years will inform future objective reviews.
  • Highway 487 Mule Deer Collision Reduction
    • Game and Fish worked with WYDOT and landowners to identify crossing points used by mule deer.
    • Areas were targeted for shrub treatment in the right-of-way to reduce concealed cover for deer to help reduce collisions with vehicles.
    • About 180 acres of shrubs were chemically sprayed along 10 miles of the highway in summer 2021. Sprayed areas were mowed in the fall.
    • Areas were set to be re-treated in spring 2022.
    • Herbicides included 4-D mixed with Escort XP to impact sagebrush and greasewood.
    • Mowing planned for 2022 where shrubs have regrown large enough to conceal deer.
    • WYDOT deer mortality data is being collected to assess effectiveness of the intervention.
    • Funding sources: Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, Wyoming Game and Fish Mule Deer Initiative

More details about the Casper Region Projects and work across the state are available in Game and Fish’s full 2021 Statewide Habitat Plan Annual Report.