CASPER - The Bates Hole/Shirley Basin Local Sage Grouse Working Group allocated $126,000 for projects to benefit sage grouse at a meeting in mid-December.
During its 2010 session, the Wyoming Legislature approved the governor's budget request for $1.2 million to support local sage grouse working groups and fund conservation projects benefiting sage grouse and their habitat. This money was divided among the eight local sage grouse working groups in the state to fund and implement projects consistent with local sage grouse conservation plans, and to benefit the species and reduce the likelihood of sage grouse being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Projects were evaluated based on consistency with Wyoming's Core Area management strategy, local working group sage grouse conservation plan, likelihood of success, project readiness, matching funds, multiple species benefits, significance at local/state/regional level, duration of benefits, and adequacy of monitoring.
Stacey Scott, chairman of the Bates Hole/Shirley Basin Local Sage Grouse Working Group, said a lot of thought wentinto how the funds were allocated. "The group's biggest priority is habitat, and with a limited amount of money and time we have to target where the best benefits will take place for sage grouse," he said.
The working group allocated funds toward the following projects:
• $26,000 will go toward the North Laramie Range Watershed Restoration Initiative, a project designed to control cheatgrass on 6,870 acres of private, federal, and state-owned lands in the Stinking Creek Drainage near Casper. The project will help restore big sagebrush communities to improve habitat for sage grouse. The entire proposed project area falls within the sage grouse core management area in Natrona County.
• $30,000 was allocated to continue a study of the impacts of wind energy development on sage grouse populations in Carbon County. The goal of the project is to determine the effects of wind energy infrastructure on sage grouse seasonal habitat selection and demography.
• $50,000 will go toward a cheatgrass control project in Natrona County. The Henderson Draw Cheatgrass Vegetative Treatment project will treat approximately 2,500 acres of BLM lands to benefit sage grouse. Cheatgrass invaded this area - which was good sage brush habitat - following a wildfire. Three leks occur within or immediately adjacent to the treatment area and most of the area to be treated falls within the Natrona sage grouse core population area, which has been classified as winter habitat for sage grouse.
• $10,000 will go toward a research project to study the response of sage grouse to treatments in Wyoming Big Sagebrush. The project is under the direction of University of Wyoming Assistant Professor Dr. Jeffrey Beck and is designed to answer questions about the immediate response of sage grouse populations to a variety of habitat treatments in pre-incubation, nesting, and early brood-rearing in Wyoming big sagebrush.
• $10,000 was allocated to Wyoming Audubon to increase education about sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems. The money will help pay for development of a traveling education trunk which will contain materials about sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems and will be aligned to state educational standards and guidelines. Education programs will be focused in Natrona, Carbon, Albany, Laramie, Converse, and Niobrara counties. The money will also help fund salaries for three community naturalists who will work to deliver these education programs.
"Many children have no idea about sagebrush ecosystems, so just giving them the basics is very important," Scott said. "In just over a decade all these kids will be voting and making decisions so it's important for them to understand the challenges facing sage grouse."
Scott said the research projects will provide much-needed information pertaining to sage grouse and the habitats they rely on. "We know very little about sagebrush ecosystems, which are very complex. We need to understand them better. Every time I think I know what is going on in these ecosystems I am proven wrong, and it makes me rethink what we're doing," he said. "We need to continue to fund habitat improvements and research projects such as these so we can continue to learn, because sage grouse are indicators of the overall health of the sagebrush habitat."
(Contact: Robbin Kepple (307) 473-3400)