(Lander, WY) — A remote creek on public land in central Wyoming got some special attention this year as the Bureau of Land Management and partners began to employ low-tech, low-cost methods to restore wet meadows to dry public lands. Wet meadows are riparian areas that provide critical habitat for wildlife and livestock in the arid landscape.
Deep Creek, a tributary of the Sweetwater River, lies southeast of Lander along the National Historic Trails. Once a wide and green wet meadow, a multitude of current and historic uses over the last century—including human and livestock migration and extensive gold mining—have resulted in a narrow channel where water moves quickly, increasing incision, drying out the adjacent vegetation and changing the way the system functions.
“Our goal with these projects is to slow the water down so it has time to spread out, drop sediment, seep down, raise the water table and build back the vegetation that stabilizes the system,” said BLM Wildlife Biologist Leah Yandow. “This process increases productivity and keeps plants greener longer, improving the extent and quality of wildlife habitat and working lands.”
A wet meadow acts as a natural sponge, holding water in the soil and slowly releasing it over time. The healthier and more productive the wet meadow system is, the more water will be left in the sponge during the late dry season. A healthy system also provides natural resilience to both high water events and drought conditions.
To begin to restore the important wet meadow ecosystem, the BLM Lander Field Office and its partners constructed restoration structures by hand—known as Zuni bowls, one rock dams, wicker weaves and rock rundowns—to brace the stream channel and armor headcuts. This strategy uses natural stream processes to stop further degradation and build back the meadow characteristics and function.
Many partners provided critical labor and expertise—Natural Resources Conservation Service, Intermountain West Joint Venture, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a local permittee, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy and Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
While these simple, low-tech methods aren’t new, it’s the first time the BLM has employed them to restore wet meadows on lands administered by the BLM in Wyoming. By foregoing heavy equipment and using rock and willow branches harvested from nearby public lands, the work is cost-effective and allows a broad spectrum of people to participate in restoration.
Shawn Conner, a restoration ecologist with BIO-Logic, Inc., trained the participants in the skills they would need to continue wet meadow restoration on public lands throughout Wyoming.
“We have a community of folks here interested in conservation work that can really attack a project,” said Conner. “That type of group, and those projects with a number of people supporting them, are the most successful.”
Future work on this system will include hand-built beaver dams at the perennial headwaters of the drainage, where there is already an extensive willow community. Between the willows, dry grassy banks show that beavers used to make a living in the Deep Creek drainage. The team will use locally-sourced, natural materials to build the structures that mimic beaver dams and promote the temporary ponding of water.
To learn more about the project, contact Leah Yandow at [email protected].