Bighorn National Forest seeking public comment regarding Invasive and other select plant management project

The Bighorn National Forest is seeking public comment on a plan to combat invasive plants and improve native vegetation conditions on the Forest. Working closely with multiple state and county agencies and partners the Forest published a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Bighorn National Forest’s Invasive and Other Select Plant Management Project on June 25, 2021. 

The draft presents three alternatives for treating invasive species and mountain big sagebrush on the forest. The document is available online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/bighorn. Bighorn National Forest personnel conducted two public meetings July 26, and 27, in Sheridan and Greybull respectively. The 45-day comment period, which began June 26, will go through August 9, 2021.

According to BHNF, the primary purpose of this analysis is to add tools available to managers for the treatment of invasive species. Invasive plant species such as the Medusahead and Ventenata grasses threaten native plant and wildlife habitat, undermine the health of watersheds, and increase wildfire risk. Sheridan County treated 28,000 acres of Medusahead and Ventenata grasses in 2020. Adding aerial spraying to the Bighorn National Forest manager’s toolbox will help them achieve their shared stewardship responsibility in the connected landscape.

The treatment of mountain big sagebrush is important under the Bighorn National Forest Land Management Plan to achieve a desired future condition for habitat structural stages of mountain big sagebrush, while balancing wildlife habitat diversity and livestock foraging opportunities. The desired conditions are not intended to be specific to the habitat needs of a single species but for the management and use of multiple species such as elk, mule deer, sage grouse, Brewer’s sparrow, and more. The best available science is used to determine the desired condition of the area.

“Mountain big sagebrush treatment is done to create a mosaic of openings within dense sagebrush cover,” Invasives and Other Select Plant Management Project Lead Thad Berrett said . “Treatment is not intended to eliminate sagebrush, but to temporarily reduce sagebrush canopy cover, which has been shown to recover to pre-treatment levels on the Bighorn National Forest within 30-40 years. This creates a diversity of sagebrush, grass, and forbs on the landscape which benefits multiple wildlife species.”

Alternative 1, the no action alternative, is a continuation of the treatments the current environmental analysis permits. Up to 3,110 acres of invasive plant species could be treated annually using a combination of biological and mechanical methods, and ground-based application of herbicide. This alternative does not include aerial spraying.

Alternative 2, the preferred alternative, proposes treating up to 5,310 acres of invasive species annually. This acreage estimate is not a limit, but an anticipated maximum amount of treatment based on past practice and potential need. Proposed treatment methods would involve education, mechanical pulling, aerial and ground-based herbicide application, and biological agents. The proposal also includes the use of herbicides to achieve a desired future condition for habitat structural stages of mountain big sagebrush, while balancing wildlife habitat diversity and livestock foraging opportunities with mowing, prescribed fire, and herbicide application. To achieve habitat structural stages of mountain big sagebrush, small areas would be treated on a rotational basis. Treatment is not anticipated to exceed 5,100 acres annually. Again, this is not an upper limit, nor a target that would need to be achieved each year. 

Alternative 3 is similar to Alternative 2 but would not include aerial herbicide application. All proposed treatments in each alternative would use an adaptive management strategy. Adaptive management is a process of decision making with the goal of reducing uncertainty over time through monitoring.

More information on the Invasive and Other Select Plant Management Project is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57457,  or by contacting Thad Berrett at (307) 684-4636 or wayne.t.berrett@usda.gov.

The Bighorn National Forest needs your input, please share your comments through August 9, by email at comments-bighorn@usda.gov with “Invasive and Other Select Plant Management Project” in the subject line. Comments may also be submitted by mail to: Forest Supervisor, 2013 Eastside 2nd St., Sheridan, WY 82801, or faxed to (307) 674-2668. Or hand delivered to one of the National Forest Offices offices.



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