Ken Mayer has been involved in sagebrush conservation issues for 30 years and now serves as the Coordinator of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) Fire and Invasive Initiative. He also serves as the Chairman of the WAFWA Fire and Invasive Working Group.
You might be the anomaly these past few summers and falls if you live in the western United States and can see a horizon clear of brown smudge from the smoke of the pervasive wildfires. The news is saturated with the reports of devastating blazes and taxed fire-fighting resources across the West. The immensity of these fire seasons is overwhelming. So many of us in the conservation community have heavy hearts when we think about environmental and human costs involved in these wildfires, especially the effect on the local communities and all our state, federal, industry, non-profit, and other partners that are directly and indirectly involved in fighting these fires and then dealing with the aftermath of the invasion on non-native invasive annual grasses.
We have slid into a self-fulfilling cycle in sagebrush country where large fires burn huge swaths of sagebrush (especially in the Great Basin), and invasives grasses then fill in that fire’s scar. The smallest spark can ignite those fine fuels, just as soon as they’ve dried out each summer. Sagebrush takes decades to grow back into their native locations after fire. Unfortunately, the speed at which invasive annual grasses take over doesn’t give the sagebrush a chance, and if the same area burns again soon after (which often happens), the sagebrush is virtually eliminated, resulting in the conversion to an invasive annual grass savanna.
If you went to the doctor and they said you have cancer, but it’s still early stage, what do you do? It’s all-hands-on-deck to try all the treatments to cure it before it progresses too far--right? You wouldn’t wait for the invention of a single cure-all pill to start fighting. Cheatgrass and other invasive annual grasses have to be treated the same way. We cannot wait until we have the perfect solution to start addressing this pending natural disaster. If we wait, it may be too late!
Though we all get excited about the next cheatgrass-killing bacteria or biocontrol, we have a number of tools in our toolbox right now to fight this invasive spread. One small tool came out this spring when the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a report assessing the fire and invasive management options for sagebrush conservation. The “Wildfire and Invasive Plant Species in the Sagebrush Biome: Challenges that Hinder Current and Future Management and Protection – A Gap Report Update” builds on previously published work to summarize the policy, fiscal, and science challenges that land managers encounter in conserving sagebrush, especially regards to the invasive annual grass/fire cycle.
The goal of this Gap Analysis Report Update is to provide a roadmap, for the decision-makers responsible for managing the sagebrush sea, to the challenges and the tools available to address this crisis. This report points out what the problems are, what successes we are having, and the gaps we need to address, with suggestions on what needs to be done.. This report is being embraced throughout the conservation community, however we need to continue to elevate this to the decisions makers.
The top five gaps are organized in term of priority and severity. The first and most pressing gap can be summarized as the lack of capacity, common conservation priorities and consistent long-term dedicated (line-item) funding for invasive plant management programs. In other words, the cost of managing these infestations increases exponentially as invasives spread. The funding appropriated each year to government programs is often barely enough to cover base salaries.
Reading of the seemingly insurmountable challenges sagebrush country faces can be depressing, especially as we breathe this smoky August air. Yet, the development of this multiagency report has been one of the most productive collaborations I’ve been involved with in my career. We know the problems and we have tools to work on them. Invasives are going to win if we hesitate. We do not have time to wait. Now we just have to have the fortitude and shared vision to get it done.
By Ken Mayer
As part of the 2018 People of the Sage: Fire & Invasives series, this article is telling the stories of the people combating the twin threats of wildfire and invasive species by showcasing their work in sagebrush country using innovative, successful conservation practices that are both proactive and reactive. To see more posts from this series search for #SagebrushCountry and #fireANDinvasives on social media.
New conservation partnerships, native trout grants, LPC numbers up & conservation heroes. Find out about the latest efforts to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife in the West.
The Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) is awarding $232,640 in grant funding for eight projects that benefit native trout species across the western United States. The community-based projects are funded through the National Fish Habitat Action Plan and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The projects were selected because of their emphasis on collaborative action to address some of the biggest challenges facing the restoration and recovery of western native trout.
"Our main objectives are to leverage and support strategic, local efforts that stabilize, recover and improve populations of western native trout,” said WNTI Coordinator Therese Thompson. “In addition to the grant funding we’re providing through the National Fish Habitat Partnership, local partners have secured additional matching funds totaling $2.33 million dollars for these projects.”
The following native trout habitat projects have been approved for funding by WNTI for 2018:
COLORADO: Rock Creek Recovery Program Phases 3 and 4
This project will create a connected population of Greenback Cutthroat Trout across Rock Creek and its tributary Black Canyon, eliminate whirling disease from a portion of the drainage where it is established, and provide seven stream miles for native trout on a combination of private land and National Forest. The project includes an innovative approach to intermediate barriers, featuring two temporary barriers that can be removed and replaced as needed, along with one permanent barrier at the downstream end of the project reach. The lead partner is Colorado Trout Unlimited.
IDAHO: Kootenai River GMU Redband Assessment
This project seeks to improve the current level of knowledge regarding Interior Redband Trout distribution and abundance in the Kootenai River Basin and provide information critical for the protection and or restoration of Redband Trout populations and their habitat in the basin. The lead partner is Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
IDAHO: Tincup Creek Stream Restoration Project, Phase 2
This is the second phase of a project to improve riparian conditions and habitat for Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, northern leatherside chub, boreal toad, western pearl shell mussels and bluehead suckers. The lead partner is Trout Unlimited.
NEW MEXICO: Leandro Creek Restoration Project
The project will isolate and extend 2.5 miles of current habitat for a core Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout population with an additional 5.25 miles of habitat on Leandro Creek through construction of a new barrier to replace an aging wooden barrier and control of non-native salmonids. The lead partner is Turner Enterprises, Inc.
OREGON: Deep Creek Town Diversion Fish Passage
Restoring fish passage for Warner Lakes Redband Trout and Warner Sucker is the focus of this project, which will complete a fish passage solution for a diversion dam that has been an upstream fish passage barrier for over 100 years. The lead partner is Lake County Umbrella Watershed Council.
OREGON: Wood River Ditch Fish Screen
This project will eliminate entrainment of native fishes while ensuring water delivery to private landowners and water users by installing a functioning fish screen and energy efficient irrigation pumps, representing an important step in protecting Redband Trout populations in the upper Klamath basin. The lead partner is Trout Unlimited.
WYOMING: Coal Creek Bank Stabilization and Sediment Reduction
This project benefits an important Bonneville Cutthroat Trout stream in western Wyoming by improving riparian and aquatic habitat condition and function, reducing sediment loading, enhancing stream habitat connectivity, and improving road function. The lead partner is Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
WYOMING: West Pass Creek Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout Restoration
This multi-phased project involves removing nonnative trout and establishing a temporary fish barrier to protect a pure population of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. Completion of subsequent phases will expand native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout to a 6-mile stream network, and will boost recruitment and the resiliency of the species in the West Pass Creek drainage. The lead partner is Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
WNTI is an initiative of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies that seeks to cooperatively restore and recover 21 western native trout and char species across their historic range. Since its inception in 2006, WNTI has directed almost $5 million in federal fish habitat funds leveraged with an additional $19 million public and private matching dollars for 123 priority native trout conservation projects.
For more information about these projects, visit https://westernnativetrout.org/2018-funded-projects/
Therese Thompson (303) 236-4402
Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management
Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 24 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40 percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.
Partnership will benefit trout in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming
Resources Legacy Fund is partnering with the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) through the Open Rivers Fund to reconnect parts of the Upper Bear River in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. The partnership will benefit Bonneville cutthroat trout, recreational fishing, and ranchers who divert water for irrigation. The partnership will ultimately fund eight restoration projects that will remove five diversion dams, three additional barriers and restore stream and riparian habitat.
The projects funded through the Open Rivers Fund are expected to be completed by early next summer. The Open Rivers Fund is a 10-year, $50 million program of Resources Legacy Fund, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It supports local community efforts to remove obsolete dams, modernize infrastructure, and restore rivers across the West. Resources Legacy Fund works with donors to create significant outcomes for the environment and for people.
Resources Legacy Fund granted $278,000 this summer to WNTI to remove three agricultural diversion dams on the Upper Bear River in Wyoming, and replace them with fish passable structures that also maintain the ranchers’ points of diversion. Two more diversion dam removal and replacement projects in Idaho are in the planning stages. Three additional projects in Wyoming and Utah are contemplated next year following completion of the initial projects.
“Our partnership with Western Native Trout Initiative will demonstrate ways to both upgrade irrigation infrastructure and reconnect rivers for fish,” said Kathy Viatella, Program Officer for the Open Rivers Fund. “We hope these initial projects show ranchers across the West that there are ways to reduce irrigation diversion maintenance and costs while freeing native species to reclaim lost habitat.”
Multiple irrigation diversion structures and other barriers fragment the Upper Bear River drainage, which spans Northern Utah, Southeast Idaho, and Southwest Wyoming. WNTI is working with many partners to remove and replace aging infrastructure in order to protect Bonneville cutthroat trout strongholds, restore habitat connectivity, and open up access to high-quality upstream habitats and cold, clean water on both public and private lands.
“We are thrilled about this new collaboration between WNTI and Resources Legacy Fund that will benefit native fish, landowners, and recreationists in the Upper Bear River drainage,” said WNTI Coordinator Therese Thompson. “Successfully addressing native trout recovery is a landscape-scale problem that requires collaboration from all interested parties in both the public and private sectors.”
WNTI is a program of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and a recognized National Fish Habitat Partnership that works to cooperatively restore and recover 21 western native trout and char species and sub-species across their historic range. The program funds efforts that raise awareness of the importance of native trout and focus limited financial and human resources toward the highest-impact, locally-led, on-the-ground projects. Since its inception in 2006, WNTI has directed over $5 million in federal fish habitat funds leveraged with an additional $23 million public and private matching dollars for 139 priority native trout conservation projects. With the collaboration and coordination of WNTI Partners, 87 barriers to fish passage have been removed, 1,130 miles of native trout habitat have been reconnected or improved, and 30 protective fish barriers to conserve important native trout conservation populations have been put in place.
WAFWA news releases available at http://www.wafwa.org/news/
Photo Credit: Jason Jaacks – Resources Legacy Fund
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has honored conservation professionals from several western states with awards commending their work to conserve fish and wildlife resources. The awards were announced July 16 at WAFWA's annual conference, held this year in Eugene, Oregon.
John D. Groendyke from Oklahoma was honored with WAFWA’s most prestigious award, the Phillip W. Schneider Lifetime Achievement Award. Groendyke was honored for his more than four decades of leadership on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. Since his first appointment to the Commission in 1976, Groendyke has demonstrated an incredible commitment to fish and wildlife resources and has participated in nearly every major conservation decision or initiative in the state of Oklahoma during that timeframe. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin reappointed Groendyke to the Commission for a historic fifth term in 2012, and stated how remarkable it is that he has continuously served under seven governors for both the Republican and Democratic parties. The award Groendyke received is named for Phillip W. Schneider of Oregon, whose legendary commitment to fish and wildlife resources spanned more than 40 years in a career in which he served as director of the state’s game and fish agency, and later as a commissioner and commissioner emeritus of Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Wyoming Game Warden Dustin Shorma was honored with WAFWA’s Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award for his dedication to duty. He’s been a game warden for more than 18 years and is widely recognized as being one of the hardest-working, effective and most dedicated wildlife officers in Wyoming. He’s known for his attention to detail in building cases that can be successfully prosecuted. He uses technology to help crack complex cases and shares that knowledge. His leadership and mentoring have had a profound impact on wildlife law enforcement in Wyoming. Shorma’s work ethic and personable, friendly demeanor have gained him the respect and appreciation of landowners and sportsmen and women throughout his district. He serves as a model for landowner relations, law enforcement, and responsible wildlife management which together garner public support for the conservation work of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award memorializes Idaho Fish and Game officers Bill Pogue and Conley Elms, who were killed in January 1981 while trying to arrest a poacher in a remote region of southwestern Idaho.
There were two honorees for WAFWA’s 2018 Professional of the Year Award. Doug Howie was recognized for his consistent professionalism and resourcefulness in administering North Dakota’s Private Lands Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program. PLOTS is one of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s highest profile programs, and Howie is a critical player in its success. PLOTS is widely recognized as one of the most successful access programs in the country, and Howie’s dedication has impacted thousands of sportsmen and women.
Jason Schooley was honored with WAFWA’s 2018 Professional of the Year Award for his contributions in managing Oklahoma paddlefish stocks based on sound scientific data, population modeling, and angler input. He’s been widely published, and shares information with anglers across the world via websites. He regularly speaks to angling groups to share his knowledge of paddlefish and general fisheries biology and ecology. Because of his efforts, the Oklahoma Paddlefish Research Center is known to anglers and scientists world-wide as a valuable asset to science-based paddlefish stock management.
WAFWA honors the conservation efforts of federal partners with the Federal Conservation Partner of the Year Award. This year’s recipient was the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma, which was honored for its commitment to natural resource conservation. The facility covers 45,000 acres, encompassing timberland, grasslands, brush land and aquatic habitat and wetlands. While meeting its military mission, the ammunition plant does an exemplary job of stewarding the natural resources within the facility boundaries. Quality deer management, agricultural outlease, invasive species control and pest management, threatened and endangered species, wetlands rehabilitation, and public outreach are the major components of the program.
Other awards conferred included the President's Award, which went to the Intermountain West Joint Venture. The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission was honored with the Commission of the Year Award. Julie Meka Carter, Jon Sjöberg and Therese Thompson were recognized for their work with the Western Native Trout Initiative with the WAFWA Contributor of the Year Award. Tony Rodgers and Matt Skogg received a Special Achievement Award for their work to implement a new streams management program in Oklahoma. Jeff Tibbits (OK) and Tom Mackin (AZ) were each honored with WAFWA’s 2018 Special Recognition Award. WAFWA recognized the Outstanding Citizen Wildlife Contributor by honoring Joshua Coursey and Joey Faigl from Wyoming. WAFWA also conferred lifetime membership awards to four individuals for their career accomplishments and service to the organization: Kevin Hunting (CA), Edward (Pat) Madden (AZ), Ross Melinchuk (TX) and Jim Unsworth (WA).
WAFWA news releases available at http://www.wafwa.org/news/
Contact: Larry Kruckenberg 307.631.4536
WAFWA President Curt Melcher, AFWA President Virgil Moore, and BLM Assistant Director of Resources and Planning Kristin Bail sign MOU.
The latest lesser prairie-chicken survey shows bird populations are up from last year, continuing an upward trend over the last few years. The survey indicates an estimated breeding population of 38,637 birds this year, compared to 29,934 birds counted last year.
“This approximately 30% annual increase is good news, but we know that year-to-year fluctuations are the norm with upland birds like the lesser prairie-chicken,” said Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Program Manager. “The most encouraging result from the survey is the steadily increasing population trend over the last six years, which likely reflects improving habitat conditions.”
Lesser prairie-chickens can be found in four ecoregions in five states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Wildlife biologists note prairie chicken numbers regularly fluctuate up and down from year to year due to changes in habitat conditions mainly influenced by weather patterns. More favorable weather patterns this past year contributed to apparent increases in three of four ecoregions where the birds are found. There is concern that moderate to severe drought over portions of the lesser prairie-chicken range this year may lead to a down turn in the population next year.
The shinnery oak ecoregion of eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle saw the biggest annual increase in birds, followed by the sand sagebrush ecoregion of southeast Colorado and southwest Kansas. The shortgrass ecoregion which covers northwest Kansas also registered an annual increase in the number of breeding birds. The estimated number of birds in the mixed-grass ecoregion spanning the northeast Panhandle of Texas, northwest Oklahoma and south-central Kansas is similar to last year’s estimate.
The annual population surveys are conducted as part of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan, a collaborative effort of WAFWA and state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure long-term viability of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry. The plan allows industry to continue operations while reducing and mitigating impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat. Industry contributions support conservation actions implemented by participating private landowners. To date, industry partners have committed more than $64 million in enrollment and mitigation fees to pay for conservation actions, and landowners across the range have agreed to conserve more than 150,000 acres of habitat through 10-year and permanent conservation agreements.
“We’re encouraged by this year’s numbers but are mindful that successful conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken will require decades of consistent progress,” said J.D. Strong, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “The continued success of the range-wide plan depends on ongoing participation by industry partners, and we are grateful for the support shown thus far. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be making another ruling on the status of the lesser prairie-chicken later this year, and industry support of the plan is more important than ever. At such a critical juncture in the conservation of this important but imperiled prairie grouse, we encourage industry to contact us and get involved."
For more information about the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan, contact Roger Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org
WAFWA news releases available at www.wafwa.org/news/
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan can be found HERE
Photo Credit: Grant Beauprez
Sagebrush conservation priorities, new WAFWA member, monarchs and more. Find out about the latest efforts to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife in the West.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has released a new report that provides a comprehensive assessment of fire and invasive management options for the conservation of sagebrush in the western United States. The report was produced by a multi-agency Wildfire and Invasive Species Working Group and updates a gap analysis report published five years ago. It includes an overview of remaining work to be accomplished, with recommendations for actions to improve the conservation and management of the sagebrush biome.
The report is titled “Wildfire and Invasive Plant Species in the Sagebrush Biome: Challenges that Hinder Current and Future Management and Protection – A Gap Report Update.” It builds on work published in 2013 that summarized the policy, fiscal, and science challenges that land managers have encountered in conserving sagebrush, especially regarding control and reduction of the invasive annual grass/fire cycle.
“This Gap Report Update is the latest addition to the list of products developed by the multi-agency working group that are designed to help identify the conservation challenges, or gaps, associated with the fire and invasive threat to sagebrush and offer ideas to address those challenges,” said Ken Mayer, WAFWA consultant and chairman of the working group. “The Gap Report Update identifies the five top challenges that need focused attention to address the pervasive invasive annual grass driven wildfire cycle that has gripped the western rangelands.”
Researchers documented that the number one conservation issue facing the western sagebrush rangelands is the lack of program capacity and necessary structure for invasive plant management at all levels of government. Specifically, the report states that the severely limited capacity for invasive plant prevention, early detection and rapid response to control and manage invasive plants, along with regulatory activities and associated native plant restoration operations, is directly tied to the lack of common conservation priorities and consistent long-term dedicated funding for invasive plant management programs. The report identified five top priority gaps and 17 areas of concern that will help all agencies and organizations working on sagebrush conservation to better focus on the major challenges.
“The Gap Report Update has something for every level, public and private, to consider helping address the fire and invasive threat,” said Virgil Moore, Director of Idaho Department of Fish and Game and director liaison of WAFWA’s Sagebrush Initiative. “We encourage the leaders of the agencies and organizations working on sagebrush conservation to review the recommendations in the report and determine if there are actions they can take directly to address the gaps. It will take a broad-based coalition working together to ensure healthy sagebrush ecosystems are available for generations to come.”
Since its creation in 2013, WAFWA’s Wildfire and Invasive Species Working Group has been working to identify fire and invasive management problems and develop tools and approaches that managers can use to address these pervasive issues. The initial gap report produced five years ago informed the 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Act status review of the greater sage-grouse.
In 2015, citing unprecedented landscape-scale conservation efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that greater sage-grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The collaborative, science-based greater sage-grouse conservation effort, in which WAFWA plays a key role, is the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.
New report available here: Wildfire and Invasive Plant Species in the Sagebrush Biome: Challenges that Hinder Current and Future Management and Protection – A Gap Report Update
Media Contact: Ken Mayer, 775.741.0098, email@example.com
Photo Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department
The Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) and its partners are once again offering opportunities for community organizations to tap into dollars to protect, restore or recover western native trout in the rivers, lakes and watersheds where they are found. The 2018 Small Grants Program Request for Proposals (RFP) will be accepting applications until June 15, 2018.
The program specifically funds innovative projects that “jump start” or complete smaller, high-impact efforts. Projects considered for funding under the Small Grants Program may include riparian or instream habitat restoration, barrier removal or construction, population or watershed assessments needed for prioritization and planning, water leases or acquisitions to improve in-stream flows, and native trout-focused community outreach and education. Individual projects can be funded at a maximum of $3,000.
“These $3,000 grant awards may be a relatively small dollar figure, but they are having a big impact,” said Therese Thompson, WNTI Coordinator. “Over six previous years of funding, this grant program has consistently catalyzed some of the most innovative community-based projects that are making a difference for native trout conservation across the western U.S.”
The 2018 Small Grants Program is supported by generous donations from project partners at Running Rivers, RepYourWater, and Basin+Bend and contributions from numerous individual donors. The full RFP can be found here.
Therese Thompson, 303.236.4402, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife
For more information about the Small Grants Program, visit www.westernnativetrout.org
Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 23 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40 percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.
2700 W. Airport Way
Boise, Idaho 83705
Wildlife Program Chiefs
Fish Program Chiefs
Committees & Groups
All images appearing in the WAFWA web site are the exclusive property of WAFWA or their respective owners and are protected under the United States and International Copyright laws. The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without the written permission of WAFWA. Use of any image as the basis for another photographic concept or illustration (digital, artist rendering or alike) is a violation of the United States and International Copyright laws. All images are copyrighted © 2015 WAFWA.