Wyoming develops creative partnership to advance wetlands conservation

Cheyenne – Water is scarce in Wyoming. Over the years, the arid state has lost more than a third of its wetland habitat. In an effort to conserve these important natural areas, three wildlife organizations came together to solve challenges facing wetlands. With the support of the Wyoming Bird Habitat Conservation Partnership, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Ducks Unlimited developed a shared full-time wetlands specialist position to get conservation projects off the ground.

To fund the new position and develop a statewide Wetland Program Plan, the Wyoming partnership was awarded its second Environmental Protection Agency, Wetland Program Development grant in the fall of 2018. The grant allows Game and Fish and Ducks Unlimited to sponsor a full-time employee whose focus is demonstration projects, capacity-building and close collaboration between the two organizations to build partnerships and expertise for the long-term for wetland conservation work in Wyoming.

Ducks Unlimited plays a key role in leading project implementation. The partnership leverages Ducks Unlimited’s scientific expertise, planning, project management and engineering skills to help lead this endeavor. In turn, Game and Fish is shortening the learning curve for land managers and organizations by building on extensive conservation planning efforts and by using developing and demonstrating projects that will be implemented statewide on Game and Fish Commission-owned lands.

“This effort is a great example of adaptive management and out of the box thinking that results in proactive conservation,” said Ian Tator, Game and Fish statewide terrestrial habitat manager. “Wyoming partners have long identified a gap in wetland capacity and collectively worked to develop a solution. Housing the Ducks Unlimited position within a Game and Fish regional office has furthered the partnership approach and created an environment where collaboration and partnerships are a natural outcome.”

The program’s current focus is on multiple beneficial wetland projects that provide valuable wildlife habitat while also addressing other concerns on the landscape, such as drought or water quality. These projects take advantage of wetland functions to contribute to overall landscape resiliency and can be integrated into watershed planning. The Wetland Program Development funding is being used to make technical expertise more accessible to other agencies as well as expanding and diversifying the partnership.

“This grant program is an important catalyst for accelerating the statewide goals and objectives of not only our individual organizations but also integrating those identified by the Wyoming Bird Habitat Conservation Partnership,” said Martin Grenier, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs in Colorado and Wyoming. “The key to this endeavor is recognizing and leveraging the strengths of each organization in a manner that facilitates the partnership’s ability to address a major gap in capacity in Wyoming. By demonstrating the potential as well as the opportunities for wetland conservation in the state, we hope to develop long-term support for filling this niche permanently.”

Noelle Smith, wetlands specialist with Ducks Unlimited, facilitates project implementation for the partnership out of a shared office with Game and Fish regional staff. “The joint nature of this effort gives it additional reach and support. We’re able to bring multiple perspectives to the table from the beginning, which helps guide the program in a direction that is responsive to new science, concerns, and ideas.”

In Wyoming, significant investments have been made on wetland assessments but implementation and restoration progress has been limited. The new partnership positions focuses on expanding capacity and technical expertise to tackle Wyoming’s conservation needs.

“Not surprisingly, wetland conservation is now a high priority in Wyoming. The state’s wetland loss meant a decrease in water storage, streamflow maintenance, and water quality in local watersheds. Further, it reduced valuable wetland habitat for 70 percent of Wyoming’s birds and other wildlife that depend on wetlands,” said Tator.

To learn more about Wyoming’s wetlands and the ongoing wetland conservation efforts, visit https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Habitat/Wyoming-Wetlands.