Wind River Restoration: Cooperative Effort Against Cheatgrass
“What do you see?”
It’s the question Mark Hogan likes to ask when he brings partners to experience large-scale conservation projects on the Wind River Reservation.
The answer to Hogan’s question? Everything. Sagebrush, forbs, bunchgrasses, footprints from big game herds, and everything else that indicates a healthy and connected shrub-steppe landscape.
This landscape is defined just as much by what is not visible. Long fence lines, housing developments, and other human impacts on the land are few and far between. The Wind River Reservation encompasses more than two million acres and includes diverse habitats, from high-elevation alpine to a vast sagebrush steppe. Hogan, who worked closely with the Tribes and many other private and public partners during his long and successful tenure* as the Wyoming Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program State Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), said that lack of development makes this area especially important.
“This project area is exceptionally valuable habitat for mule deer, bighorn sheep, and elk, all of which are culturally important species,” Hogan noted. “It also has robust numbers of migratory birds and Greater Sage-grouse.”
But, like so much of the West, this corner of Wyoming is not immune to the threats facing sagebrush habitat. Though Wyoming currently has less cheatgrass than many other states in the sagebrush biome, this and other aggressive invasive annual grasses are slowly gaining a foothold in the area and threatening the health and function of sagebrush habitat. However, thanks to recent funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), local partners now have new leverage in the fight against cheatgrass.
In early 2022, the Wind River Inter-Tribal Council approved a BIL-funded USFWS project to chemically treat invasive plants in the Washakie Rim, Breaks, and Coyote Basin areas on the Wind River Reservation. The project is a cooperative effort between the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes, USFWS, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Fremont County Weed and Pest District and part of a larger, landscape-scale partnership to fight cheatgrass in Wyoming’s core sagebrush habitat.