Photo h/t Jaepil Cho, US Fish and Wildlife Service
(Gillette, Wyo.) Last month the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, based out of Montana, granted $314,629 to the state of Wyoming to help improve conditions in the Cowboy State that will hopefully lead to healthier wildlife, including elk.
The grants benefit over 40,000 acres across the state. In Northeast Wyoming, Sheridan, Johnson, and Campbell counties will be receiving noxious weed treatment across 1225 acres, to help promote better grazing for livestock and wildlife. Tom Toman, Director of Science and Planning for the Elk Foundation, says that the number one threat to our native grasslands is cheatgrass, which was brought over from Russia in the late 1800s as a “quick fix” for poor range conditions.
“They could put cheatgrass down and it grew like mad and the cattle would eat it,” Toman told County 17. “But only when it first came up. After that it gets pretty hard on a cow’s mouth, so they won’t eat it after that.”
Toman says the 1200 acres funded for treatment are mostly on BLM land, and could have possibly been ignored since they tend to be “in the middle of nowhere.” Cheatgrass left to its own devices is not only bad for grazing animals, but it changes the wildfire frequency. Cheatgrass can survive a yearly blaze caused by lightning or other dry fuel conditions, but sagebrush cannot tolerate fire on a regular basis.
“Cheatgrass being as dry as it is, it’s one of the first things up in the spring and then it dries out and drops its seeds. It’s outcompeting the native grasses,” Toman said. “It eliminates the native grasses and its ecological ramifications are that it replaces all of the native grasses and wildflowers. It’s pretty important to keep the native stuff there for all the wildlife, not just elk.”
Herbicides like plateau will be applied via aerial application some time this summer across the remote areas where cheatgrass has gone unchecked. Toman says Canada thistle and common burdock are also a problem in the area. Without a partnership with the Forest Service, Wyoming Game and Fish, and the Bureau of Land Management, the Elk Foundation would not have known where to contribute this grant money, which will greatly help preserve our native grasses.
“I’m really glad the wildlife managers and habitat managers in Wyoming submitted this problem to the Elk Foundation, so we can try and make elk country a better place.”