For the past five years, the Douglas Core Area Restoration Team (DCA RT) has partnered with private landowners within a Wyoming Sage-grouse Core Population Area to restore sagebrush to Greater sage-grouse habitat previously burned during several wildfires. While the footprint of these wildfires has varied from hundreds to thousands of acres, the end result has been the same. Small and large areas that previously contained a healthy population of sagebrush now exist as seas of grass with virtually no sagebrush. At present, approximately 10% of the landscape within the Douglas Core Area has been impacted by wildfire at some point during the past 20 years. The DCA RT has successfully magnified the energy of a large “People of the Sage" partnership to target the twin threats of wildfire and invasive species in this small core area that lies along the eastern edge of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem.
Who are the many faces of the Douglas Core Area Restoration Team?
The DCA RT is comprised of people that many of us know and work with in our personal and professional journeys within the sagebrush steppe ecosystem. The expertise of its 20+ members is diverse, and members represent numerous local, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, industry, and the University of Wyoming. The DCA RT is supported by consultants from both Trihydro Corporation and WEST, Inc. who have been dedicated to sustaining the DCA RT’s momentum and providing field and logistical support. While DCA RT members are volunteers on behalf of their home organization, their collective knowledge, experience, and expertise have been instrumental in the conservation gains that have been made in the DCA during the past 5 years.
Restoring sagebrush to the landscape
The DCA RT’s first project was implemented in Fall 2014 and included the planting of approximately 16,000 sagebrush seedlings in a wildfire area that occurred near one of the few active sage-grouse leks within the DCA. Since that first project, five additional projects have been implemented for a totaling more than 100,000 sagebrush seedlings planted, covering more than 5,000 acres of post-wildfire areas. Each of these projects was made possible through collaborations with private landowners who have been true partners in this large-scale conservation effort. From gathering local sagebrush seed used to grow containerized seedlings for the outplantings, to ongoing conversations with landowners, to lengthy hours spent monitoring project success in the field, most of the DCA RT’s members have spent considerable time in the DCA and in monthly meetings dedicated to enhancing habitat for sage-grouse and other sagebrush obligate species.
Outreach to share lessons learned
While much time and effort has been dedicated to planning and implementing projects, the DCA RT has invested in research by supporting two graduate students associated with the University of Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center. These student’s research projects have produced results that have not only allowed the DCART to modify its project protocols but have also been shared with numerous others embarking on sagebrush seedling planting projects in Wyoming.
Reducing wildfire threat through cheatgrass management
While the DCA RT is working to restore previously burned landscapes, they are also working with private landowners to manage cheatgrass through herbicide applications. In 2018, the DCA RT was awarded an NRCS RCPP (Regional Conservation Partnership Program) grant. At the top of the list of projects is partnering with landowners within the DCA, Thunder Basin Core Area, and the surrounding five county area to treat cheatgrass. The hope is that by reducing cheatgrass, the risk of large-scale wildfires will similarly be reduced. While it is a long and slow process to enhance fire-impacted landscapes and to prevent future wildfires through invasive species management, the DCA RT and the landowners in this area of eastern Wyoming have proven that they are up for the challenge and committed to enhancing sagebrush habitat while sustaining livestock operations.