Teton CD brings allotments up-to-dateWritten by Christy Martinez
Jackson – In January 2010 the Teton Conservation District began a rangeland monitoring program on Teton County’s federal grazing permits, and since then the project’s grown to include many partners.
“Part of our mission is to support ag producers on public and private lands, and we have a number of board members who are ag producers, so they were aware of permit renewal processes ongoing on the Bridger-Teton Forest, and we wanted to contribute to the process,” says Robb Sgroi of the Teton Conservation District.
The district began their project by speaking with Forest Service personnel and offering its services, looking for a place to contribute.
“We ended up finding we could contribute by providing data,” says Sgroi. “We don’t have a big decision-making role, but we’re improving the amount of data.”
UW Rangeland Management Specialist Mike Smith has been a key partner in the project.
“He helped us interpret the data we found in the Forest Service files, and he helped us develop a monitoring program based on goals and timelines,” says Sgroi.
Smith says there aren’t many permits in Teton County, but he adds, “They’re one of those things we don’t want to see go away.”
Smith says he’s worked with the district to replace the data not collected by the Forest Service over the last 30 years.
“We’ve been repeating what we can on the transects we found, and we’ve established new monitoring on those transects where we couldn’t duplicate what was done before,” says Smith.
“We did a lot of research through the Forest Service allotment files so we could relocate old sites, re-read some transects and learn how to do the monitoring,” says Sgroi.
Following their first summer on the project, in Winter 2011 the district heard about the Rangeland Health Assessment Program and its funding that was passed by the Wyoming Legislature.
“The grant program was perfect to continue to develop the program we’d already started,” says Sgroi. “We were in a good position to apply for the funding, and we had a good idea of what type of sites were on the ground, how to add sites and what type of methodologies we’d use. The money let us get on the ground and get a lot of work done this summer,” says Sgroi of Summer 2011.
Funding from the Rangeland Health program helped the district hire several contractors with range and vegetation backgrounds.
“It gave us a lot of capacity to put together the personnel, equipment and many other things like a truck, stock and tack to get to the remote sites and to pay to implement the program,” says Sgroi.
The monitoring program in Teton County was initially planned for three years, after which Sgroi says the district will reassess the project.
“Last summer we got all of the work done in the active allotments and grant areas of interest, and we have other sites in the watershed that would give us a watershed-level view of what’s happening in these areas,” notes Sgroi of future possibilities, adding that further data would help, should ag producers move back into the areas with grazing.
Of challenges to getting the monitoring program up and running, Sgroi says the permittees have demanding schedules, but that they’ve gone above and beyond what was expected, both in interest and effort.
“They’ve worked side-by-side with the land management agency to continue to build relationships and trust and to share expertise,” says Sgroi.
Sgroi adds another challenge was locating old transects on the forest.
“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, because they’re just angle irons in the ground, surrounded by vegetation, and we used hand-drawn maps and lines drawn on photos to find them, but no coordinates. It took a lot of ground pounding and off-trail terrain. But, we got support from the permittees to find some of those sites,” he says.
Smith says some of the transects were established in the 1950s, and none of them had been assessed later than the ‘80s.
“With all of them we’ve implemented a land point transect, similar to what’s in the Wyoming Rangeland Monitoring Guide,” says Smith. “For some we’ve also done clipping studies, and on most we’ve put in a set of nested frequency transects.”
“We learned a lot in the past year-and-a-half, and everyone’s been open to working with a large group of cooperators,” states Sgroi. “Everybody’s brought something important to the table, and they’ve been open to correcting and improving the processes.
“Folks’ jobs can be somewhat narrow at times, but they’ve been willing to get outside their box and contribute to something that will be very valuable for better resource management.”
“We’re very grateful for the timing of the grant, which was perfect for our program, as it allowed it to grow in what’s been more difficult financial times for us, and it’s delivering a lot of value for the permittees and the forest,” says Sgroi. “We’re grateful for the work we’ve been able to do, and for the cooperator work from contractors, UW, NRCS and the other agencies that helped us design and plan for our project.”
“What we’re hopefully coming out with is techniques that can be redone effectively sometime in the future, and I think part of what we’re up to is to make sure that environmental groups don’t have sufficient ammunition to blow the permit renewal out of the water,” says Smith. “They generally tackle situations where there isn’t sufficient data, but in this case, assuming they finish up on the Environmental Assessment this winter, there will be a fair amount of data available over the last five decades, although there are large gaps. It should come out that there’s no substantive change to the range, or, if there is, it’s probably for the better.”
“Rarely does the Forest Service have enough horsepower in time, energy and personnel to actually go out and do what needs to be done, so the conservation district is picking up the ball and going with it, so when we get through with it there will be sufficient data,” adds Smith.
Some of the permit renewals that spurred the project are anticipated in Spring 2012.