PINEDALE- The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, along with several other agencies, has stepped up to provide alternative grazing for cattle displaced from last year’s Fontenelle Fire in the Wyoming Range west of Big Piney.
This summer, the Game and Fish is allowing a conservative stocking of 135 cow/calf pairs to rotationally graze their Half Moon Wildlife Habitat Management Area (WHMA) near Pinedale.
In 2012, the Fontenelle Fire burned approximately 64,000 acres, affecting 11 different federal grazing allotments. Fire can have a very positive effect on forest vegetation, and the wildlife that depends on it, but it is critically important that the plants have a chance to bounce back in the first growing season or two after the fire. “We actually had two different prescribed burns planned for the same area burned by the Fontenelle Fire, so this has the potential to be a great thing for wildlife,” said Wyoming Game and Fish, Pinedale Habitat Biologist, Jill Randall. “But as with any fire, in order to fully realize the benefits, it is important for those plants to get relief from grazing pressure for at least the first growing season, and preferably two in lower precipitation areas.”
Similarly, the Wyoming Game and Fish allowed cattle grazing on its Half Moon WHMA during the summers of 2005 and 2006, to maximize the benefits after a prescribed fire for wildlife. Randall also believes the limited grazing can be good for the Half Moon area as well. “A light stocking of rotational grazing is generally good for the range, getting rid of older “wolfy” plants, while encouraging new regrowth.”
Managers are using temporary electric fencing to rotate the cattle through the habitat unit during the summer. In addition, Game and Fish personnel from the Boulder fish rearing station are hauling water to the very north section of the unit, allowing better distribution of grazing in an area which normally would not be able to support cattle due to a lack of water. The new water source also benefits antelope and other wildlife. Also, three new cattle guards were installed by Wyoming Game and Fish personnel to minimize impacts to hunters where the electric fence crosses access roads.
One potential downside to the arrangement is that the cattle may still be present on the Half Moon WHMA when some antelope hunters arrive on the September 10 opener. Randall explains that it is similar to many federal lands that have cattle grazing that overlaps a portion of the hunting season, and encourages hunters to use caution when hunting amidst livestock. “We don’t expect there to be a problem, but it is good for hunters to know there could be cattle in the area, especially when they’re not used to having them there most years.”
The project partners included the Wyoming Game & Fish, Bridger Teton National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sublette County Conservation District and the ranchers, or permittees. Funding for the project came from Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, and Sublette County Commissioners.
“Finding a place for the cattle that would normally graze the large area burned by the Fontenelle Fire was a daunting task and would not have been possible without the efforts of many, especially the permittees, many of whom had to ship or trail their cattle to a new area and deal with the unforeseen issues that go with grazing a new area,” said Randall. “I think we all realized we had a golden opportunity to realize a lot of good from the fire and went the extra mile to make it happen. It was a true partnership in every sense of the word.”