Legislature may fund local habitat rehabilitation


A proposed bill to enhance wildlife habitat nearby and around the state is headed for the Wyoming Legislature’s 2017 general session.

The bill would help finance a number of habitat improvement projects in Wyoming, including in Sunlight Basin near 7D Ranch on Sunlight Road and Medicine Lodge Creek adjacent to Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site near Hyattville. It’s possible that lawmakers will add a project to improve Bull Creek on the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Select Natural Resource Funding Committee backed the bill with very few amendments Dec. 15 in Cheyenne, said John Roth of the Legislative Service Office’s legal section. “They did vote to sponsor it.”

A portion of the money for the projects would come from interest earnings on the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Account, with the remainder coming from project partners such as the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service.

“This is our money,” said Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Account Board. “(Legislators) just have to approve us spending it.”

Sunlight Basin restoration

The roughly 400-acre project would involve restoring streams and helping provide crucial winter range for elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and moose, according to the proposed bill. The work would maintain habitat and a migration passage while increasing forage for wintering wildlife. It also would reduce or eliminate sediment on Sunlight, Painter and Trail creeks while stabilizing stream banks and adjacent creek bottoms.

Budd said the proposal will improve the meadows and river function.

The total cost is slightly over $1.6 million, according to the bill.

The Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Account Board is authorized to grant $788,000 for the project. The remainder of the cost would be backed by the board’s partners: the Shoshone National Forest Resource Advisory Council, Trout Unlimited, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Nature Conservancy, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Carol Holding Trust, Budd said.

The work will require several years to complete, but Budd said the board is confident of its success. “We like to do these because we know they work.”

Medicine Lodge Creek rehabilitation

This project entails stream improvement, erosion control and improved fish travel, Budd said. The work should be completed early next year, barring unforeseen glitches.

It will maintain habitat and trout migration in an area that sees high levels of public recreation, according to the bill. Budd said the work would involve improving a diversion structure to aid fish passage. It will also reduce or eliminate the volume of sediment flowing downstream to aid irrigation use.

The total cost is just under $1.39 million, with the board granting $572,750, according to the bill.

Partners pitching in the rest of the cost include Game and Fish, Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails, Trout Unlimited, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and Paint Rock Canyon Ranch, Budd said.

Bull Creek cutthroats

Although not included in the draft bill, the Bull Creek project would re-establish cutthroat passage up Bull Creek, where the native trout were previously hindered, Budd said. The board has financed dozens of similar projects across Wyoming.

The cost is around $300,000, Budd said. The board would contribute $81,000 with the Wyoming Water Development Commission, Trout Unlimited and Lake View Irrigation District in Cody paying the rest.

The goal is to complete the project next summer, Budd said.

Good intentions

The board’s intention is a positive, proactive approach to environmental issues, Budd said. If the board doesn’t believe a project will bring a favorable ecological outcome, board members will not fund it. “That’s our job,” Budd said.

The Wyoming Legislature has the final say on whether to pay for the projects with earnings from the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Account.