Wyoming Conservation Summary

Wyoming as we know it now is a rather recent beast: there was a lot of shifting and changing going on during the Pleistocene, and things didn’t really resolve into their current form until about 8,000 years ago. It is a place where grasslands give way to sagebrush oceans, where jagged peaks rise high above verdant valleys, and where wildlife thrive. But not without impending threats to their continued survival.

Rare Species and Characteristic Habitats

Wyoming encompasses the western periphery of the Great Plains, the eastern rim of the Great Basin, parts of the Central and Southern Rocky Mountains, and the northern tip of the Colorado Plateau. What ties them together is our own unique ecoregion, the Wyoming Basins. The Wyoming Basins can be described alternately as an unusually expansive and dry foothills zone, a strangely treeless montane zone, or simply a high cold desert. So not only does the state encompass flora, fauna, soils and climates more typical of the adjacent regions, but it also supports unique biotic and abiotic elements.

Out of Wyoming’s great mountain ranges flow miles of rivers and creeks that support an amazing array of wildlife. Basin wetlands provide habitat for hosts of birds and amphibians. And Wyoming is home to some of the greatest herds of large animals — bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope and mule deer — in North America, including the continent’s longest overland migration by a pronghorn antelope population, which travels annually from Jackson to the Red Desert.

Along with its more famous native species, like gray wolves, grizzly bears and trumpeter swans, Wyoming is home to many rare and endangered species, such as the endemic Wyoming toad and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Some of the best remaining populations of the endangered black-footed ferret are in Wyoming, where recent recovery experiments in the Shirley Basin are doing remarkably well.

Public and Private Conservation Efforts

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are iconic Wyoming. Yellowstone, America’s first National Park, sets an example for effective conservation while at the same it faces continuing threats that require constant protection efforts from federal, state and private organizations.

Not all lands can be a National Park. Private conservation measures, such as conservation easements and other cooperative efforts with private landowners and organizations, are used extensively. Over 300,000 acres have been protected by land trusts such as Jackson Hole, Green River Valley, Stockgrowers and The Nature Conservancy. Trout Unlimited has worked with a variety of landowners to protect native trout populations. In 2005, the Wyoming Legislature created the Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust. Funded by donations, legislative appropriations and interest earned on a permanent account, the program serves to enhance and conserve wildlife habitat and natural resource values throughout the state.

Threats

Energy and residential development are key challenges to conservation in Wyoming. The state has vast oil and gas, coal, and wind resources that are being developed to satisfy the nation’s continuously expanding energy appetite. Residential development is a growing threat in the Greater Yellowstone area and in the state’s urban areas. According to the Wyoming Center for Business and Economic Analysis, Cheyenne has gained more than 3,000 homes since 2000 (1,250 in the past year alone), a much higher growth rate than in recent history. All this development destroys and fragments natural habitat.

Invasive species such as cheat grass, Saltcedar, Russian knapweed, and leafy spurge also threaten the state’s native species. Saltcedar is a growing threat along rivers in southwest Wyoming, establishing and crowding out native vegetation. A very rapid grower, saltcedar can grow 9 to 12 feet in a single season. Saltcedar also removes water from the river. Noxious weeds infest approximately 1.3 million acres of land in Wyoming.  

Wyoming’s Future

A recent conservation poll shows how much people care: about three-fourths of Wyoming voters support authorization of assessing impact fees on developers who build in areas where water, wildlife or working ranches could be affected. Wyoming voters view the availability of water (particularly for agricultural purposes), loss of family farms and ranches, and the fragmentation of natural areas and ranchlands by development as the most serious conservation issues. This growing awareness and involvement have drawn many to the defense of Wyoming’s abundant wildlife and wide-open spaces.

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