Reducing sediment, Garrett Ranch Co. utilizes new methods in Bolton CreekWritten by Madeline Robinson
Casper – The Bolton Creek Restoration Project is made up of a series of research and development endeavors, which will help reduce the amount of sediment transported from Bolton Creek to the North Platte River.
This series of projects will help keep the river clear and healthy, as well as maintain a healthy fish population in the river.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) hosted a tour of the restoration project on June 5 to show landowners, contributors to the project and members of the public the project’s success of reduced sediment deposition and erosion to the area.
“If we can keep one pickup truck load of dirt out of the river, we are making progress,” stated Keith Schoup, WGFD habitat biologist. “This is going to be a long-term project and all nature provided.”
He added, “We are hoping that, within the next three to five years, we’ll be able to maintain this two and a half mile stretch we are working and focusing on now and then move to the next section upstream.”
To help monitor the water level of Bolton Creek, four water-monitoring pumps were placed along the creek. These pumps are equipped with an electric pressure system and will continuously record the water level of the creek.
“The idea is, the more water we can store on the floodplain terraces of the creek, the longer the water will last throughout the year,” explained Joe Meyer, field manager with the Bureau of Land Management.
He continued, “With the snowmelt and rainfall gone, the water will be higher along the creek bank than it is in creek. The water will then flow back towards the creek and be available for longer periods of time for plants, wildlife and livestock to use.”
The beaver’s capabilities of building dams are being highlighted by the project to help disperse and slow the flow of water of Bolton Creek. With the creek running slower and shallower, the theory is the occurrence of erosion will be reduced.
“It’s amazing what beaver can do, given the opportunity,” stated Schoup. “They can turn a dry area into a wetland in a matter of days and have more grass grow by the creek beds.”
The project also relocated problem beaver to the creek area in hopes of augmenting the already established beaver population along Bolton Creek.
“We don’t know for sure how many beaver we have in Bolton Creek,” commented Schoup, “but we have released six nuisance beaver into the area to help augment the population, and two of them have transmitters.”
Schoup explained beavers prefer to eat the bark of young fresh Aspen trees. One mature beaver can consume between six to eight pounds of woody material per day, but once the wood becomes too old, the beaver are not interested in using it.
Since the new introduction of beaver to Bolton Creek, landowner Pete Garrett of Garrett Ranch Company commented that he has seen an improvement in the western wild rye grass and willows growing along the creek.
Garrett also mentioned the beaver dams have helped deposit sediment along the sides of the creek, which help narrow and shallow the creek.
“We used to not be able to cross a horse across the creek. The sides of the creek used to be straight up and down,” described Garrett. “Today, we can see the siltation building up along the sides of the creek, and we can now cross a horse through with no problem.”
He added, “Before we had to follow a cow around to get out of there.”
“We may have lost a lot of older cottonwoods to the beaver,” mentioned Garrett, “but once the beaver have a dam built, it keeps the siltation back, and in the next two to four years, we’ll have a whole new crop of young cottonwoods growing in the backwaters created by the dams.”
To help reduce the beaver from cutting down all of the cottonwoods along the creek, the City of Casper and the Wyoming State Forestry Division (WSFD) provided thousands of pounds of trees from the Muddy Mountain area and leftover tree branch material from storms for the beaver to use as a food source and to build dams with.
Bryan Anderson, district forester with the WSFD, mentioned thus far they’ve had 2,000 to 3,000 new seedlings of trees per acre of regeneration in the Muddy Mountain area from removing the old aspen for the beaver.
The trees and branches were brought to the area by dump truck and aerially with a helicopter.
“We know that we have 17 dams built out of the aspen since last fall, and we’ll monitor the dams again this coming fall,” noted Schoup. “The most active period for the beaver is during the fall, starting in September through November.”
Practices that have been implemented for the Bolton Creek Restoration Project consist of installing a bottomless culvert and water-monitoring wells, as well as placing old Christmas trees in a Chevron pattern in the tributaries of Bolton Creek to trap sediment.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department Regional Fisheries Supervisor Al Conder estimates the amount of sediment traveling from Bolton Creek to the North Platte River, at a flow of six cubic feet per second (CFS), is between 30 to 35 tons daily. This is equivalent to three large dump trucks.
One CFS is equivalent to 7.48 gallons of water per second.
“When the creek is running at 10 CFS, not even doubling the amount of flow, the amount of sediment moving into the river is the same as putting 10 dump truck loads into the river per day,” he added.
Conder went on to further note, “With each ton of sediment, we are able to hold upstream, it will help the water quality of the river and maybe help water treatment plants on downstream.”
Major partners in the Bolton Creek Restoration Project are landowners Pete and Ethel Garrett and family of Garrett Ranch Company, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund.
Other conservation organizations and foundations contributing to the project are the Wyoming Fly Casters, Mule Deer Foundation, Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition and the Great Plains Fish Habitat Partnership.
“We all know that none of us would have been able to accomplish any of these projects that reduce sediment and erosion in the area by ourselves,” commented Keith Schoup, Wyoming Game and Fish habitat biologist. “I certainly would like to thank all of our partners and cooperators in this project.”
The project costs for the Bolton Creek Restoration Project have amounted to $165,182 for in-kind contributions and $122,465 in monetary donations.
WGFD continues feeding elk across WyoWritten by Saige Albert
Pinedale – With each of Wyoming’s feedgrounds currently operating this winter, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Feedground Supervisor Gary Hornberger notes that the WGFD continues to seek ways to continue feeding elk while operating feedgrounds most efficiently as possible.
“In the face of rapidly increasing hay prices, we have worked hard to find ways to make the feedground program as cost-effective as possible, while continuing to take care of our elk that attend WGFD feedgrounds,” he says.
This year, Hornberger notes that feeding started in some areas toward the end of November but was not necessary until the beginning of the year in others.
“This year, based on the average of the last several years, we have had pretty typical start dates,” Hornberger says. “Right now, there are elk still on native winter ranges, but as snow depths increase, most elk will come to the feedgrounds.”
Some efforts have taken place to move elk off of private property, to minimize damages to rancher’s stored crops and to discourage elk from commingling with cattle for disease concerns, more specifically, brucellosis.
WGFD Brucellosis, Feedground, Habitat biologist Eric Maichak indicated, “The WGFD continues to vaccinate elk for brucellosis on feedgrounds and takes every opportunity to make improvements to reduce the disease where we can. The prevalence of brucellosis averages 26 percent of the population of elk that attend feedgrounds in northwestern Wyoming.”
Brucellosis levels are relatively stable among elk attending feedgrounds.
“We continue to implement disease reduction management strategies to diminish prevalence of this disease,” he comments.
One program the WGFD has implemented to save costs, conserve resources and reduce disease transmission involves a novel feeding technique.
“On some feedgrounds with lots of space, we began dispersing hay over a larger than normal area in a checkerboard pattern,” Maichak explains. “We’ve found that feeding in this manner significantly reduces disease transmission.”
“Through research, we found that brucellosis transmission can occur when elk are actually eating hay,” he continues. “Feeding one or two lines of hay congregates the elk, as they tend to walk up and down the line of hay, resulting in higher contact rates with the bacteria.”
However, when hay is dispersed over the feeding area in a checkerboard fashion, Maichak says, “Elk don’t have a single line to walk and have reduced chances of contacting an aborted fetus and contracting the disease.”
A study conducted by Kari Boroff with the UW Department of Applied Economics found that low density feeding is the most cost effective brucellosis management strategy among other management techniques investigated, including vaccination and test and slaughter.
The study evaluated the cost to benefit ratio of several available disease management techniques.
The timing of feeding is also important.
“We start to see brucellosis-induced abortions in elk during the third trimester of pregnancy, which begins around February,” Maichak says. “Abortions are most likely in March and April and May.”
“We found a direct relationship with the length of the feeding season and brucellosis prevalence of elk on those feedgrounds,” he notes. “On average, the longer elk are fed into the spring, the higher their rate of brucellosis. This makes sense because we found abortions occurring in March, April and May, so the longer elk remain concentrated on feedgrounds, the more likely they are to encounter an aborted fetus and get the disease.”
On some feedgrounds that are distant from cattle operations, the WGFD has tried to end feeding as early as possible to reduce brucellosis transmission while ensuring elk are healthy and not a threat to cattle.
“Obviously, we need to feed elk when the snow is deep, but if conditions are moderate enough to allow elk to free range, while not causing a disease transmission risk to cattle, we have some flexibility to end feeding early and reduce brucellosis risk among those elk,” he adds.
With the rise in hay prices, the WGFD has made other efforts to alleviate costs.
“Costs at the WGFD’s 22 feedgrounds have gone up quite a bit in the last several years, primarily due to rising hay prices,” he notes. “The WGFD budgeted about $2.5 million in fiscal year ‘14 for the feedground program. Most of that is dedicated to the purchase of hay.”
The WGFD also contributes to feeding operations at the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Increasing costs means that the feedground program must operate as efficiently as possible. Hornberger notes that feedground personnel continue to explore efficiencies within the program.
“The WGFD, in cooperation with land management agencies, has conducted thousands of acres of habitat treatments to provide native forage for elk around feedgrounds,” Maichak says. “These treatments can help provide alternative forage resources if they’re available to elk.”
In areas that are feasible and effective to improve habitat, WGFD has worked to increase habitat quantity and quality to improve natural forage sources.
“On many areas adjacent to elk feedgrounds, managers have completed habitat treatments and seen benefits to elk, as well as other wildlife species and cattle,” Maichak says. “However, when forage is covered in snow and inaccessible to elk, feedgrounds provide a dependable source of forage.”
Research continues to inform efforts the WGFD can take to decrease brucellosis in elk herds utilizing feedgrounds that are cost effective and return a net benefit.
Elk and brucellosis research
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, along with the University of Wyoming and other collaborators, has been conducting brucellosis research projects on elk since 2006 in effort to reduce disease transmission among elk, and from elk to cattle.
Using technologies such as Vaginal Implant Transmitters (VITs) and GPS collars, managers have found when and where elk abort – the characteristic symptom of brucellosis, and have determined areas that are of high risk for brucellosis. This information also identifies elk calving areas.
The WGFD has used findings from these projects to implement effective disease management strategies, such as low density feeding methods.
Game and Fish looks at alleviating challenges for mule deer populationsWritten by Saige Albert
Over the last 20 years, mule deer populations in the state of Wyoming have declined significantly, says Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik.
“We have seen declines of 25 percent or more statewide,” Nesvik comments. “There are a lot of folks across the state who are concerned.”
Between hunters, landowners and wildlife conservationists, many Wyoming citizens continue to look at mule deer populations, and Nesvik notes that WGFD is working hard to identify actions to help the populations.
“When we look at the causes of mule deer population reduction, we see greatly declining fawn recruitment,” Nesvik explains.
In the mid-1980s, fawn recruitment numbers were in the 80s, meaning 80 fawns per 100 does were still alive following hunting seasons – significantly increasing their likelihood of survival over the long-term.
“Now, our statewide average is below 65 fawns,” he says. “We have a lot of areas of the state that are significantly below those numbers.”
Nesvik adds that a recruitment level of 65 fawns per 100 does is scientifically determined to be a sustainable level.
When looking at the causes of mule deer population decline, Nesvik marks two major considerations – where mule deer live and how they live.
“These are equally important components of the problem,” he notes.
When looking at where the mule deer live, Nesvik says that the drier climate that habitats are experiencing causes a decrease in productivity and nutritional quality.
“Mule deer spend their time eating brush-type species,” he explains. “They aren’t grass eaters. Rather, they consume sagebrush, mountain mahogany, forbs and similar plants.”
Because those habitats that support mule deer are old and not as productive as newer habitats, they are able to support fewer animals.
“There are a whole variety of reasons that affect the habitat side of the equation,” says Nesvik. “Drought is a factor, and in some cases, we’ve suppressed fire to the point that brush species are old and not as productive.”
Comparing mule deer habitats to a cow/calf operation, Nesvik says, “On a ranch with a set amount of ground, if a rancher is going to get bigger, the only way to have more cows is to produce more grass.”
Methods of improvement include fertilization and removal of sagebrush, for example.
“Essentially, the only way he can run more cows is if they get water and he sees an increase in grass production,” Nesvik says. “We are in the same boat with mule deer.”
The WGFD works to actively improve habitats by implementing large-scale habitat enhancements.
“We have worked to improve habitats, specifically in places where mule deer are spending their time during critical times of the year,” Nesvik comments, “and we continue to look for places we can do habitat work on a larger scale.”
In the Wyoming Range and the Platte Valley, to a larger extent, private landowners have been pivotal in providing places, funding and ideas for habitat improvement projects.
How they live
Because mule deer face the same challenges that other species face – such as disease, predators and highway collisions – the population sees decreases each year.
“One of the things that exacerbates habitat problems are predators, because they work symbiotically with the degraded habitat,” Nesvik says. “Literature suggests that predators can have more of an impact on populations of mule deer when habitats are of lower quality.”
Better habitat may help deer to survive and withstand predator influences.
“It is a double whammy for them,” Nesvik says. “We have mule deer in the West that travel 100 miles from the summer to winter ranges, and they have to have good groceries along the way.”
Nesvik also noted that highway collisions also can have impacts on deer populations.
“We have some issues with migration corridors,” he says. “While migrating, they have to be able to get across the highway.”
Large-scale projects around Baggs, Cokeville and Daniel have been put in place to install underpasses along highways for deer to utilize.
Other deer concerns
To alleviate predator concerns, Nesvik says WGFD is also working with the Animal Damage Management Board (ADMB) to address potential predator effects.
“We have looked at areas of the state where ADMB and local Predator Management Boards are going to do predator control projects for livestock anyway,” he explains. “We’ve worked with ADMB to work on predator management projects that benefit both livestock and mule deer fawning areas.”
WGFD has also worked to address mountain lion quotas to alleviate predation concerns.
Overall, WGFD continues to seek ways to aid declining mule deer populations and help the species to recover in Wyoming.
Good news story
While mule deer populations are declining, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik sees successes in elk numbers across the state.
“While we don’t have our final numbers in yet, it looks like we will have a second year in a row of record harvest,” he says. “That is a result of significant efforts from many across Wyoming.”
Nesvik notes that the WGFD has undertaken several efforts to improve elk harvest though out the state, but he recognizes that landowner participation and cooperation has resulted is key to success.
“We have learned in a big way that when we can work with private landowners, hunters can kill elk,” he says. “That has been a huge part of our success.”
Efforts like the Hunter Management and Assistance Program in Meeteetse and on Iron Mountain have helped to put WGFD employees on the ground with hunters to increase harvest.
“We have also been helped by the Wyoming Legislature, where provisions were approved so people could get up to three elk licenses,” he says.
“We have liberalized many seasons, increased license allocation, worked with landowners and increased our cow harvest across the state,” Nesvik comments. “There is more good news to follow with elk numbers.”
WGFD asks landowners for input to reintroduce Bighorn sheepWritten by Madeline Robinson
Jeffrey City – The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) has had requests and questions over the past two years about reintroducing Bighorn sheep into the Sweetwater Rocks, Ferris Mountain and Bennett Mountain areas.
Over the last four months, they have been in contact with several landowners and other interested individuals and groups, such as the Bighorn Sheep Working Group and the Statewide Bighorn Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group, regarding the Bighorn sheep reintroduction.
“There’s absolutely no proposal at this time. We just want to gather information,” stated Jason Hunter, Lander regional wildlife supervisor during an information-gathering meeting on May 7. “We’ll only develop a proposal with the help of all affected landowners, livestock producers, land use agencies and any other stakeholders.”
“We are going out to visit with people to see how much interest there is to reintroduce Bighorn sheep,” continued Hunter. “If there’s an interest, we will move forward. If there is not any interest, we will not.”
“If a formal proposal is developed, it’s going to be the people’s. We’ll put pen to paper,” explained Daryl Lutz, Lander region wildlife management coordinator.
He added, “However, the proposal will have to go through public review, wildlife division review in Cheyenne, WGFD review at the commission level, the Governor’s level and the Statewide Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group for the Bighorn sheep before we ever see anything happen on the ground.”
“We haven’t even really discussed if we will be going forward with the proposal, even though the majority of the folks at our meetings have supported it,” stated Hunter.
He continued, “Several things need to be addressed before we can go down that road. One of those things is working with the BLM and the landowners to try and look at what we can talk about for grazing and water development – maybe even prior to a proposal.”
He noted that they want to document any opportunities folks may have, as well as concerns that the WGFD will need to address, before moving forward with making a proposal.
“We just didn’t feel it was right to develop a proposal without any input,” commented Hunter. “We want input from the public to help us develop a proposal, if a proposal is to be made.”
He added, “If we can’t come up with a proposal that everyone can agree with, then we’ll just walk away and forget about it.”
At the meeting in Jeffrey City, one of the attendee’s concerns about the Bighorn sheep reintroduction included the concern that a special land management designation would be made for the occupied areas of Bighorn sheep.
The concerns continued with the impacts that would be felt by ranchers with domestic herds and farm flocks in those same areas and how it would affect their grazing permits on federal lands. The potential for restriction of land use during the lambing season of the Bighorn sheep was also a voiced concern
Another concern addressed at the meeting was Bighorn sheep movement to irrigated fields and private lands, instead of remaining in the rocks.
The risk of disease transmission impacts to and from Bighorn sheep to domestic sheep was also addressed at the meeting, as well as poaching concerns of the Bighorn sheep.
Attendees also wanted to know if continual input from ranchers and producers would be solicited during the whole process of managing the Bighorn sheep and their reintroduction process.
Other big concerns of attendees at the meeting were if the Bighorn sheep take precedence over livestock in the future and how would the Bighorn sheep numbers be monitored when several animals are already competing for the limited forage resources.
Attendees also noted the concern of increased traffic to private lands to monitor, observe and hunt the Bighorn sheep, as well as the impacts to producers trailing their domestic sheep through the rocks.
Opportunities mentioned at the meeting for the reintroduction of the Bighorn sheep were the hunting and viewing opportunities of the animals, along with increased predator management for the Bighorn sheep.
Also, if a water development project was to be developed in the area of the Bighorn sheep, it could benefit multiple animals in the area.
Another potential benefit mentioned of reintroducing the Bighorn sheep was the reduction of non-native invasive plants growing in the rocks that they may eat.
The Bighorn sheep WGFD mentioned that would be used for the reintroductions to the Sweetwater Rocks, Ferris Mountain and Bennett Mountain areas are of the same species as the native Wyoming’s Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep.
“These sheep prefer low elevations and are more of a non-migratory sheep,” said Hunter. “They were released into the Devil’s Canyon area in 2004 and in the Seminoe Mountains in 2010. Both of these herds seem to be doing quite well.”
The reintroduced sheep could come from Oregon or the Devil’s Canyon area in Wyoming, similar to past efforts in the Seminoe area, but other states may have sheep available, as well. This would be looked at further if a proposal is developed.
Because these Bighorn sheep are the same species of Bighorns currently in Wyoming, there is no risk of these reintroduced Bighorn sheep being listed under the Endangered Species Act, said Hunter.
Additionally, there have been two hunting licenses granted for the reintroduced Bighorn sheep in the Seminoe Mountains.
Last phase of Green River project for invasive species was completedWritten by Madeline Robinson
Green River – For the past five years, efforts have been conducted to control the invasive species of Russian olives and tamarisks along the Green River Riparian corridor.
“We thought if we could systematically approach this issue in a phase type control effort we might be able to succeed in keeping it controlled and at bay,” explains Kevin Spence, Green River habitat biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Russian olives and tamarisks are both introduced species to the Green River corridor, and they have become intrusive by outcompeting the native trees and shrubs in the area.
In late 2009, a local collaborative working group of local landowners and agency representatives began to address the issue on how to control the invasive species along the lower Green River corridor, specifically in the areas between Fontenelle Dam and the inflow area of Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
“The biggest thing on the Green River we are trying to do is control, not eradicate, the Russian olives and tamarisk,” comments Spence. “We are looking to control their numbers in a way where they won’t outcompete and overcome the native vegetation like it has in some systems like in the Bighorn River.”
Phases of project
Teton Science Schools completed the project’s two-phase inventory of the Russian olives and tamarisks locations along the river in 2010 and 2012.
Phase One was along the riparian corridor between Fontenelle Dam and downstream of Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. This area equated to 44 river miles and 28,556 acres.
Phase Two of the project was completed this January and incorporated the riparian corridor between Seedskadee and Interstate 80 crossing and the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area of river between Scott’s bottom and Davis Bottom. A total of 28 river miles and 9,000 acres were treated in this phase.
For Phase Two, the Sweetwater County Weed and Pest District hired Field Services and Weed Control, LLC to perform stump cutting and application of basil bark chemical treatments to control the Russian olives and tamarisks.
“The larger trees need to be cut down with chainsaws, and their stumps are painted with a chemical immediately afterwards,” says Spence. “Through capillary action, the chemical is drawn into the roots and kills the tree.”
“Several wildlife species are dependent on sustaining native cottonwoods, willows and riparian shrub habitat along the Green River,” describes Spence. “Preventing this gradual invasion of the Russian olives and tamarisk from becoming a vegetative monoculture along this river will be extremely important for future populations of fish and wildlife.”
While the seeds from the Russian olives provide a food source for birds and other wildlife, along with shade and windbreaks, the ecological threat to the riparian areas and life stage habitats from the invasive species far outweighs any benefits they could offer.
“These invasive species are nitrogen fixers,” explains Spence, “which means they can take nitrogen from the air and affect it to the soil and increase nitrogen levels in the soil and water – affecting the water quality next to streams and rivers.”
The nitrogen fixation and the continuous persistence of the invasive species degrade and potentially can eliminate essential life stage habitats for many terrestrial and aquatic wildlife species.
Control efforts began along the Green River in 2011 with a combination of stump-cut and chemical treatments to reduce Russian olive and tamarisk along the 4.5 river mile immediately below Fontenelle Dam.
In 2012, the City of Green River Parks and Recreation Department hired a contractor who performed mechanical removal of the invasive species on 586 acres of riparian habitat along five miles of the Green River.
In the late fall of 2013 treatment efforts were applied to discourage establishment of re-sprouts and seedlings.
“We are pretty much done with all the initial treatments, so anything that occurs after this will just be periodic follow-up control efforts,” says Spence. “These efforts are aimed at retreating any kind of re-sprouts or new seedlings that have established.”
“People who have dealt with this problem before highly recommend to control the growth of these invasive species while there is an opportunity to before they become a huge problem,” relays Spence. “That was the intent of this project.”
Grant funding was used in 2013 to purchase and plant several 10- to 15-foot Narrowleaf Cottonwood trees and four- to six-foot Silver Buffaloberry shrubs in clusters along the riparian greenbelt where the Russian olive and tamarisk control treatments occurred.
The species of plants that were planted are native to the area and riparian systems. Taller statured plantings were used to provide some immediate wildlife habitat value and expedite the recovery of the riparian vegetation community.
The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative, Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust, Sweetwater County Weed and Pest District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Wyoming Private Land Partners Program and Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge provided grant funding and other support for the project.
Other supporters of the project were Teton Science Schools, Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Private landowners that are interested in participating in the Russian olive and tamarisk control efforts along the Green River Riparian corridor can contact the Sweetwater County Weed and Pest District at 307-273-9683 or the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Green River Regional Office at 307-875-3223.