Wildlife expertise, resources availableWritten by Jennifer Womack
Casper – Habitat biologists see first-hand what Wyoming landowners do for the state’s wildlife. They also have a first hand look at the resources available and project designs they say can be mutually beneficial for livestock and wildlife.
“I work with a lot of landowners who are willing to try some new things, maybe different from what their family has historically done before, to make things work better for wildlife,” says Brian Jensen, Habitat Extension Biologist based in Casper. “They’re willing to listen to wildlife concerns when they’re considering practices for the benefit of livestock.”
“We’ve got excellent partnerships with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the conservation districts,” says Gary Butler who oversees Game and Fish’s biologist staff. “They’ve been extremely supportive of our habitat extension positions. The focus is working with private landowners and utilizing funding we get through the farm bill, conservation groups and other partners to implement projects. All we need is willing landowners.” In addition to the staff of biologists who work for Game and Fish, an additional four biologists work jointly for Game and Fish and the NRCS focusing their efforts on private land projects.
“With extension biologists being in the NRCS offices and next to conservation district folks, it provides an avenue to be in contact with landowners we typically don’t have contact with,” says Butler.
Jensen says helping wildlife comes naturally for most ranchers.
“We try to create win-win situations where we can improve soil, water and vegetation for wildlife and livestock,” says Butler of a process he says is a partnership with landowners. “It’s a popular program when we can do that. It’s a program that has helped us build some bridges with landowners.”
“They like being out on the ground seeing critters,” says Jensen of ranchers. “They’re willing to do some things for wildlife that might not benefit their livestock.” Jensen says it’s not uncommon to see landowners leave forage for wildlife or allow water to continue running in a pasture regardless of livestock’s presence.
“I’m working with a landowner who is doing some prescribed burns,” says Jensen. “It will benefit his livestock, but the project is primarily for the benefit of wildlife.”
Jensen says he’s seeing an increase in the number of stream improvement projects. “Those are predominantly for wildlife,” he says of the efforts to stabilize stream banks and enhance the presence of woody forbs. “Stream bottoms are wildlife factories,” says Jensen of the projects’ values.
“We’ve got the funding through not only the farm bill and its different programs,” says Butler, “but we’ve got the wildlife and natural resource trust. That just keeps growing and becoming more important each year. The legislature created a really good outlet there for programs like ours.”
More funding than ever before is available for those looking to carry out wildlife projects says Jensen. He says there are also funding sources like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other non-profits willing to back projects to benefit wildlife.
Beyond the funding is the technical resources offered by Butler’s staff. He advises landowners considering a project either geared toward wildlife or with the potential to provide mutual benefit, visit their local NRCS office.
“Landowners make my job possible,” says Jensen. “It’s been said they’re the true stewards of wildlife in Wyoming. They manage a lot of the land in this state and we need to continue to nurture that relationship. We need to praise them for what they do and help them the best we can. It’s important to make wildlife programs conducive to livestock management as well. We have to realize they have to make a living on the land.” Jensen says it’s important to ensure both resources – the ranching and the wildlife – do well.