Partners Leverage Strengths for Wyoming Wetlands

Water is scarce is Wyoming. And in recent years, the arid state has lost more than a third of its wetland habitat.  This loss has resulted in a decrease in water storage, streamflow maintenance, and water quality in local watersheds. It has also reduced the value and availability of habitat for 70% percent of Wyoming’s birds and other wildlife that depend on wetlands. 

Not surprisingly, wetland conservation is now a high priority in Wyoming. Significant investments have been made on wetland assessments, but implementation and restoration progress has been limited. The lack of capacity and technical expertise has hampered efforts to deliver restoration and protection projects on the ground. That’s where creative collaborations like the Wyoming Bird Habitat Conservation Partnership, consisting of a diverse group of natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, and private citizens, come together to advance voluntary wetland conservation projects. 

With the support of the Wyoming Bird Habitat Conservation Partnership, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and Ducks Unlimited (DU) developed a creative solution to the capacity challenges associated with implementation. The WGFD submitted a funding proposal to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 8 to develop a Wetland Program Plan for voluntary restoration and protection. A key element of the proposal involved collaborating with DU, a recognized leader in voluntary wetland restoration programs, to lead the development of the plan and assist with implementation of the WGFD’s voluntary restoration and protection program.

In September 2018, the Wyoming partnership was awarded its second EPA Wetland Program Development grant. The partnership is leveraging DU’s scientific expertise, planning, project management, and engineering skills to help lead this endeavor. DU is also playing a key role in leading project implementation in Wyoming by sponsoring a full-time employee whose focus is demonstration projects, capacity-building, and close collaboration with WGFD to build partnerships, trust, and expertise for the long-term – all are critical for implementing a successful voluntary conservation program such as this.

“This grant program is an important catalyst for accelerating the statewide goals and objectives of not only our individual organizations but also integrating those identified by the Wyoming Bird Habitat Conservation Partnership,” said Martin Grenier, DU Manager of Conservation Programs in Colorado and Wyoming. “The key to this endeavor is recognizing and leveraging the strengths of each organization in a manner that facilitates the partnership’s ability to address a major gap in capacity in Wyoming. By demonstrating the potential as well as the opportunities for wetland conservation in the state, we hope to develop long-term support for filling this niche permanently.”    

Noelle Smith, Wetlands Specialist with Ducks Unlimited, facilitates project implementation for the partnership out of a shared office with WGFD regional staff. “The joint nature of this effort gives it additional reach and support.  We’re able to bring multiple perspectives to the table from the beginning, which helps guide the program in a direction that is responsive to new science, concerns, and ideas.”

In turn, WGFD is shortening the learning curve for managers and organizations by building on extensive conservation planning efforts while using lands they manage to develop and host demonstration projects that will be implemented statewide. The program’s current focus is on multiple benefit wetland projects that provide valuable wildlife habitat while also addressing other concerns on the landscape, such as drought or water quality.  These projects take advantage of wetland functions to contribute to overall landscape resiliency and can be integrated into watershed planning. Wetland Program Development funding is being used to make technical expertise more accessible to other agencies as well as expanding and diversifying the partnership.

“This effort is a great example of adaptive management and out of the box thinking that results in proactive conservation,” said Ian Tator, WGFD Statewide Terrestrial Habitat Manager.  “Wyoming partners have long identified a gap in wetland capacity and collectively worked to develop a solution.  Housing the DU position within a Wyoming Game and Fish Department regional office has furthered the partnership approach and created an environment where collaboration, trust and partnerships are a natural outcome.”    

Learn more about Wyoming’s wetlands and ongoing wetland conservation efforts here.