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Hayfields restoration benefiting wildlife
Sagebrush, native plant reseeding will attract sage grouse, park biologist says.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: November 14, 2012
Work near Kelly and Antelope Flats is erasing the lingering imprint of agriculture, reclaiming a half square mile of hayfield and returning the land to its natural condition.
The Grand Teton National Park program is killing invasive smooth brome grasses and revegetating with native forbs, grasses and sagebrush that benefit wildlife. The program will eventually restore 4,500 acres. The 15-year job is only about 7 percent complete.
“Every year we’re able to do a little bit more,” Grand Teton plant biologist Jason Brengle said. “We’re really ramping up our efforts on this.”
Restoration work next year will focus on killing invasive grasses and weeds in the Teton Valley Ranch, Warm Creek, Hunter and Elbo areas, according to a funding proposal Brengle submitted to the Upper Snake River Basin Sage-Grouse Working Group. The area will then be reseeded.
The working group approved $28,200 for the job, and the National Park Service will contribute another $57,500 during 2013 and 2014.
All told, Brengle and Grand Teton technicians will treat 777 acres in 2013 and clean up remaining smooth brome grass on another 320 acres that were treated and reseeded in past years.
Reseeding in 2013 will take place on another 200 acres that were treated with an herbicide solution that uses 3 percent glyphosphate.
Smooth brome, used to make hay when livestock roamed near Kelly and Antelope Flats, is an “aggressive, nonnative grass” that has become the dominant plant species throughout the once-irrigated rangeland, Brengle said.
“It’s a monoculture of smooth brome,” he said. “A monoculture of anything is really not healthy.”
During the spring, biologists have about 10 days to remove the brome while it’s going to seed and at its most vulnerable.
Sagebrush is naturally re-establishing on some of its former turf, but it’s a slow process and doesn’t result in productive habitat, Brengle said.
“Where the sagebrush has moved back into the smooth brome, it looks diverse, but it’s not,” he said.
Rangeland restoration in Grand Teton is guided primarily by the 2007 Bison and Elk Management Plan, which also covers the National Elk Refuge. Although the plan was created to enrich habitat for elk and deer, it’s also beneficial for sage grouse and other sagebrush-dependent species.
On parcels that were reseeded in 2010 and 2011, Brengle has seen sagebrush up to 10 inches tall by the end of the following growing season.
“Within the first five years, sage grouse are going to be using it,” Brengle said. “They probably will right away, on some level. Just from personal experience, you see sage grouse using the fringes of these areas. They want to be in there.”
The Moulton sage grouse lek — Jackson Hole’s largest — is hugged by the hayfields. GPS data acquired by Kelly-based Craighead Beringia South show that the grouse generally shun the hayfields but congregate at their fringes.
Bryan Bedrosian, a Beringia South biologist, said restoration of the Kelly and Antelope Flats rangeland will benefit grouse throughout Jackson Hole.
“It’s going to impact more than the Moulton Lek,” Bedrosian said. “It’s an important use area for pretty much all the birds in the valley, especially in the winter.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the sage grouse for Endangered Species Act protection, with a decision expected in 2015. Jackson Hole’s grouse numbers have been stable for the past decade, but the population is small. This spring the sage grouse working group tallied 128 male grouse in the valley’s nine known leks.