A Check-up on the Condition and Health of Wyoming’s Wetlands
By Holly Copeland, Landscape Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming
Most people don’t readily think about wetlands and their value to wildlife in an arid state like Wyoming. However, 90% of the wildlife species in Wyoming use wetland and riparian habitats daily or seasonally, and about 70% of Wyoming bird species are wetland or riparian obligates (3). In order to better understand the geography of wetlands in Wyoming, The Nature Conservancy and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department spearheaded a state-wide assessment of wetlands that mapped “wetland complexes” and determined their importance in terms of biodiversity, recreation potential, agricultural influence, condition, and vulnerability to future environmental changes (1).
Using data and expert site knowledge, members of the Wyoming Bird Habitat Conservation Partnership team identified nine priority wetland complexes. Three of these wetland complexes–Upper Green River, Laramie Plains and Goshen Hole–are among the most biologically diverse in the state and important breeding, staging and stopover habitats for waterfowl, waterbirds, and numerous other avian species. Cerovski et al. (2004) documented breeding by 13 species of ducks and 19 species of waterbirds and shorebirds in the Goshen Hole Complex alone.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded the first study in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin to conduct a wetland profile using field monitoring in 2011. Wetland profiles have been used regionally, in Colorado and Montana, to summarize wetland diversity, abundance and condition, and to establish baseline conditions and assess cumulative impacts, and inform conservation goals (3)(4).
Using the EPA’s Rapid Assessment Method, technicians conducted field monitoring at 66 wetlands in the Upper Green. Site assessments included soil and vegetation inventories, water quality monitoring, hydrology, avian richness, and landscape disturbance quantification.
The EPA subsequently funded wetland profiles for the Laramie Plains and Goshen Hole priority complexes. Field staff completed monitoring in Laramie Plains in the summer of 2013, and will be surveying the Goshen Hole Complex in the summer of 2014.
Data analysis is underway for these monitored basins. Early observations have confirmed that most wetlands sampled are highly influenced by seepage from agricultural irrigation. These results are not surprising as the dominant land use is agriculture, which consists of irrigated and non-irrigated crops and native rangeland.
The overall objective of this project is to build wetland landscape profiles for all priority wetland complexes and to help sustain and improve their overall abundance, diversity and condition. The data gathered from this project will fill critical gaps in information on wetlands in Wyoming, supporting efforts to develop targeted conservation goals and objectives for high priority wetland focal areas. The team will produce a peer-reviewed paper on the condition of wetlands in the Upper Green and consider using biodiversity measures such as avian richness to support baseline ecological integrity assessments. The team will also work with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to incorporate their key conclusions on wetland health into state water reporting to EPA. Finally, the team will examine how these baseline data can support water quality planning efforts to select and implement wetland conservation efforts.
(1) Copeland, H., S. Tessman, E. Girvetz, L. Roberts, C. Enquist, A. Orabona, S. Patla, and J. Kiesecker. 2010. A geospatial assessment on the distribution, condition, and vulnerability of Wyoming’s wetlands. Ecological Indicators 10:869-879.
(2) Johnson, B. J. 2005. Hydrogeographic wetland profiling: an approach to landscape and cumulative impacts analysis. US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.
(3) Nicholoff, S. H. 2003. Wyoming Bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0., Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Lander, WY.
(4) Vance, L., K. Newlon, J. Lemly, and G. Jones. 2012. Rocky Mountain REMAP Project 2009-2011. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT.