(Fremont County, WY) – In a presentation made at the Washakie Reservoir on September 12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced more than $10.5 million in fiscal year 2024 funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will support 59 strategic projects in Western states focused on “habitat restoration and on-the-ground science.”
Locally, projects include Wind River Reservation Riparian Fencing, which aims to construct approximately 8.1 miles of new, wildlife-friendly fencing that will be completed in cooperation with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, as well as an Invasive Annual Grass Management Collaborative, which aims to manage invasive cheatgrass and defend about 100,000 acres of high-quality sagebrush habitats on mixed-ownership lands in the state.
The State of Wyoming, U.S. Department of Agriculture, local government, private landowners and the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes have partnered for this project.
These projects total at $884,763, with $300K going toward the fencing, and $584,763 for the invasive cheatgrass management collaborative.
Chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe John St. Clair was the first to speak at the announcement presentation, and stressed the need for these local projects.
“One of them in this area, is the cheatgrass problem, which has an effect on the environment,” St. Clair stated. “It takes over. It’s detrimental not only to the cattle and the horses, but also to all of the wildlife in the area.”
St. Clair went on to discuss the “constantly expanding” buffalo herds on the reservation and the need for the additional wildlife friendly fencing, which will be partly in the Crow Creek area.
“Eventually in our law and order code we hope to designate the buffalo as a wildlife species,” St. Clair explained. “That’s the future of our reservation, is to go in that direction.”
“We don’t want to push out the cattleman” St. Clair continued, and explained that some of the reservation land will still be available for ranchers. “Here in this area, some of them make a living, so this project here will help them, the environment, the cattleman and our wildlife.”
Former Lander resident and now Service Deputy Director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Siva Sundaresan was the next to speak.
“The (Wind River) Reservation is a huge part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem,” Sundaresan commented, and went on to share that the local areas are a part of a 175 million acre sagebrush ecosystem that these funds aim to protect and restore. “Protecting iconic and irreplaceable landscapes like this is a top priority.”
“Wildlife conservation here is a shared responsibility. To be successful we have to continue working together to make significant progress at this national scale.”
“I lived in Wyoming and just from my time here I know that many people care deeply about the land and wildlife,” Sundaresan later told County 10 before once again stressing the the importance of the collaboration already displayed in these projects. “When we are able to bring some Federal attention and Federal resources to help folks working on these projects, I am hopeful that people will take notice.”
Pat Hnilicka, the supervisory fish and wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Lander office who has worked in the area for about 22 years, informed County 10 just how important it is to mitigate cheatgrass invasion in the sagebrush areas.
“It’s obviously not very good for wildlife or livestock,” Hnilicka explained, due to the fact that cheatgrass is not as palatable as native vegetation for animals in the area. “When you lose that (sagebrush) you lose your wildlife as well.”
Hnilicka then referenced the cheatgrass situation in Boise, Idaho, in terms of its damaging effects on sagebrush.
“Because cheatgrass came in, invaded, and changed the fire cycle, it basically eliminated sagebrush,” Hnilicka explained. “We don’t want to look like that, because once it gets to that stage, it’s almost impossible to bring it back. We’re on the edge here, and this is an opportunity to get ahead of it.”
Arthur Lawson, the Director of Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game and the livestock officer in the Wind River Reservation, echoed earlier sentiments about the importance of these collaborative efforts and the dangers of not addressing the issues at hand.
“I don’t think the public understands what a fire hazard that cheatgrass is,” Lawson continued. “If it caught on fire we would lose a lot of this landscape and survival of wildlife.”
“To see U.S. Fish & Wildlife come in and donate money to help the Reservation and other projects like this, is huge; it’s an amazing success story,” Lawson also stated.
The full press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with further details is below.
Through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the Department of the Interior is implementing more than $2 billion in investments to restore our nation’s lands and waters and advance the America the Beautiful initiative to restore and conserve 30% of lands and waters by 2030.
To guide these historic investments, the Department released a restoration and resilience framework earlier this year to support coordination across agency restoration and resiliency programs and drive transformational outcomes, including a commitment to defend and grow sagebrush ecosystems.
By working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers, state and local leaders, Tribal Nations, the outdoor recreation community, private landowners, and other stakeholders, the Department is working to build ecological resilience in core habitats and make landscape-scale restoration investments across sagebrush country
“These sagebrush projects will combat invasive grasses and wildfire, reduce encroaching conifers, safeguard precious water resources for neighboring communities and wildlife, and promote community and economic sustainability,” said Service Director Martha Williams. “As we continue to work alongside our partners on projects that are conserving the sagebrush ecosystem, we are creating good-paying jobs which bolster local economies, and we are strengthening important relationships between the Service, states and Tribes in these landscapes.”
Spanning over 175 million acres, sagebrush country contains biological, cultural and economic resources of national significance. It is home to more than 350 species across the West, including pronghorn, elk, mule deer and greater sage grouse. America’s sagebrush ecosystem is the largest contiguous ecotype in the United States, comprising one-third of the land mass of the lower 48 states.
Service Deputy Director Siva Sundaresan made today’s announcement at an event at the Wind River Reservation. In fiscal year 2024, over $1 million of the more than $10.5 million in this Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding will be directly invested in conservation delivery work with Tribal partners. Some examples include:
Wind River Reservation Riparian Fencing (Wyo.), $300,000. The goal of this project is to construct approximately 8.1 miles of new, wildlife-friendly fence to exclude cattle from important mesic areas, while also installing solar wells and livestock tanks to provide off-stream livestock water. The project will be completed in cooperation with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.
Invasive Annual Grass Management Collaborative (Wyo.), $584,763. The goal of this project is to manage invasive annual grass and defend about 100,000 acres of high-quality sagebrush habitats on mixed-ownership lands in Wyoming. Partners include the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, the State of Wyoming, U.S. Department of Agriculture, local government and private landowners.
Northwestern Nevada Large-Scale Rangeland Restoration (Nev.), $303,000. The goal of this project is to reduce the spread of invasive annual grasses through herbicide application and native seeding, which will improve overall rangeland conditions in and around core sagebrush habitats in northwestern Nevada. This project is in collaboration with the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe and Nevada Department of Wildlife.
See a full list of fiscal year 2024 projects on the Sagebrush Conservation website.
The Service is committed to working with local communities, state and federal agencies, Tribes, conservation groups and private sector partners to ensure they have the tools they need to conserve these important areas.
Sagebrush funding is allocated to existing and new projects based on priorities established by the Service’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Team and partners, including the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
The SET, WAFWA and others are using the Sagebrush Conservation Design – a landscape-scale tool to prioritize conservation investments in sagebrush — to collaboratively defend and grow intact, functioning sagebrush geographies and mitigate the primary threats to sagebrush ecological health, namely invasive grasses and wildfire, drought and encroaching conifers.
By anchoring conservation in these areas, the Service and its partners can focus on working to restore degraded lands and habitat through the “Defend the Core, Grow the Core” approach endorsed by the Western Governors Association and a growing number of partners working across the West.
This announcement comes as the Service celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and its importance in preventing imperiled species’ extinction, promoting the recovery of wildlife, and conserving the habitats upon which they depend.
Throughout the last 50 years, the ESA has been extraordinarily effective at preventing species from going extinct and has inspired action to conserve at-risk species and their habitat before they need to be listed as threatened or endangered.
Thanks to the ESA, almost every single species that has been protected by the ESA is still with us today, and more than 100 species of plants and animals have been delisted due to recovery or downlisted from endangered to threatened.
To learn more about the Endangered Species program, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species webpage.