Improving Forest Health in Wyoming

The NWTF, Bureau of Land Management and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation collaborated to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and restore alpine meadows to a more natural state on, and around, Gardner Mountain near Kaycee, Wyoming. This area is in the southern portion of the Big Horn Mountains and is part of NWTF’s Tongue-Powder River Focal Landscape. 

In 2014, The BLM approved an environmental assessment of the Gardner Mountain area which proposed forest thinning and prescribed fire treatments on about 6,000 acres within a 13,607-acre landscape. According to a USDA Forests to Faucets study, there was an 88% chance of catastrophic wildfire on Gardner Mountain and a 92% chance in surrounding areas.

Known as the Slip Road Shaded Fuel Break and Meadow Restoration Project, the recently completed 54-acre fuel reduction and meadow restoration is part of an effort to restore about 800 acres in the Slip Road area to a condition that carries a smaller risk of stand-replacement wildfire. In addition to the 54 acres that the NWTF and partners funded, BLM fire crews restored 256 acres of curl-leaf mountain mahogany stands by removing pine encroachment.

The NWTF and partner funds purchased vehicle fuel, a new chain saw and general supplies such as saw fuel that aided BLM firefighting staff in performing the thinning and pile-burning work.

Through hand thinning and building and burning slash piles, the project reduced the density of encroaching ponderosa pine stands, which made the area more resilient to future wildfire and resistant to pine beetle infestation.

Curl-leaf mountain mahogany shrubs do not re-sprout after fire and, like Wyoming big sagebrush, are killed by fire. The resulting thinner and healthier mahogany stands will be more resistant to stand-replacement wildfire. These stands are highly valuable to game and nongame species in the area, including elk, mule deer and wild turkey, providing important winter forage and hiding cover.

While the full project is still in its infancy, private landowners, hunters, outdoor recreationists and ranchers, among others in the community, have praised the completed work. This increased dialogue has led to more discussion about the Big Horn Mountain’s forest health and fire ecology among the local community.

“The NWTF is excited to be working in partnership with the BLM in Wyoming,” said Collin Smith, NWTF district biologist “Much of Wyoming’s quality wildlife habitat is found on BLM lands, and maintaining these vast areas in a healthy state can be challenging. Successes such as the Gardner Mountain project ensures a diverse suite of wildlife species continues to thrive and wildlife recreationists have places to enjoy their pastimes.”

Jennifer Walker, a BLM ecologist, added, “Fire is crucial to the ecology of these ponderosa pine settings. With help from great partners like the NWTF and RMEF, the BLM can implement more acres of thinning and prescribed fire treatments, which will aid wildfire management and help to restore fire on the landscape.”

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Wyoming