Forest Service addresses drought, sage grouse and prairie dog concerns in summer update
Cheyenne – “The Forest Service (FS) and producers know how tough of a year last year was,” said Bob Mountain, Forest Service Rangeland Vegetation staff member for the Medicine Bow-Routt and Thunder Basin National Grassland (TBNG). “Going into the fall and winter, it did not look like there would be much help coming to lessen the drought. However, much of the moisture that did come this spring came at a critical time for site development.”
At the 2013 Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in Cheyenne, held June 5-8, Mountain updated producers on current issues faced by the FS, which included drought and sage grouse management.
The persistent drought that is impacting Wyoming rangeland was noted as a management challenge for both producers and the FS.
“In every situation, the FS tackles each case on a site by site, allotment by allotment basis on what we need to do to work with the producer,” said Mountain. “There are so many factors that affect each allotment that we believe it is never the right answer to make an across the board decision on any scale.”
This individualized analysis helps tailor the plan to match the producer and their needs, opening up more opportunities for management decisions. The FS is currently working with producers on managing stocking rates with the current numbers being turned out.
“In most cases we have started the stocking decisions,” Mountain continued. “We are trying to accommodate the number of animals that producers still have left and have not needed to destock yet. The FS is hoping that the whole season will carry those numbers but planning that it might not, so we will evaluate as we go. That has served us well in the past, and we hope that it will continue to do so.”
Last year, National Director for Rangeland Management Charles Richmond asked the FS to compile responses for every vacant allotment and pasture in the region. These responses detailed why the pastures were vacant, most often due to conflict, and determined the possibility of using these as emergency pastures or forage reserves during times of intense drought.
“If we have vacant forage reserves allotments or pastures that can be used, we are doing everything in our power to use those so that producers on neighboring or adjacent allotments can utilize them in hopes of carrying out a full season or more of the season,” concluded Mountain.
During the update, Mountain stated that the Wyoming FS would be piggybacking on the Nine-Plan Amendment of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for sage grouse habitat and management in the Bridger-Teton and Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and the TBNG.
“Because of a court-ordered settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until 2015 to make a final determination on listing the Greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act,” stated BLM. “State wildlife management agencies, along with the BLM and FS, which administer most federal lands in the West, are taking unprecedented steps to ensure the conservation of the Greater sage grouse on public lands. Proactively implementing the right policies and conservation measures now will reduce long-term regulatory burdens on stakeholders.”
The Nine-Plan Amendment, which impacts Casper, Kemmerer, Newcastle, Pinedale, Rawlins and Rock Springs, is targeted to have public availability by September 2013.
“The TBNG has 98 percent of the sage grouse habitat on nation forest system lands in Region Two,” said Mountain. “We have little slivers on the top slopes of the Medicine Bow, but the TBNG is the bulk of the sage grouse habitat.”
“The grassland plan is already fairly consistent in incorporating the vegetative habitats of the sage grouse,” added Mountain. “In our five-year analysis of that plan, it was indicated that we are already meeting the plan in desired species composition and structure on the broader ray across the landscape.”
The TBNG also supports ideal habits for prairie dogs. The FS will be creating an amendment on these creatures as well.
“We will be embarking on another amendment on prairie dogs in the TBNG region,” added Mountain. “The habitat types that the sage grouse need are just a little bit different than the prairie dogs for vegetative or lack of vegetative components, but in many cases, the two are found on the same acre.”