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The Bighorn National Forest is conducting treatments for invasive plant species

Tim Schleicher
Flickr via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A meadow in the Bighorn National Forest.

The Bighorn National Forest is conducting yearly treatments targeting invasive species. The Forest Service plans to treat approximately 5,310 acres of invasive plant species and 5,100 acres of mountain big sagebrush using a combination of manual, mechanical, biological, cultural, as well as aerial and ground-based applications of herbicide. However, all spraying and treatment are being conducted under previous plans this year. Aerial application would be part of a new plan, which won’t take place this summer, but could next year.

There is no herbicide use planned on sagebrush in 2022, though there are plans for using prescribed fire to limit as a treatment method at a later point this year. Approximately 200 to 500 acres of sagebrush are treated in this manner annually.

“As far as treating invasive species on the Bighorn National Forest in 2022, we’re currently treating weeds,” said Thad Berrett, District Ranger of the Bighorn National Forest. “We typically spray in June, July, and August [and] we can spray into September. Those are the primary four months we end up spraying on the forest.”

While the plans call for treatment of invasive species and sagebrush on thousands of acres of the forest, the acreage treated this year and for the next few years, will likely be much more limited in scale.

“At this time, we don't know right now, our summary for a record of decision says treat[ment of] approximately 5,000 acres of invasive plant species,” Berrett explained. “This year, next year, and the year after that it'll probably only be 500 or 600 acres. But if we do go after some bigger patches or some bigger patches show up in the next 15 [to] 20 years, then we can treat larger acreage as needed.”

Normally they have treated anywhere from 500 to 600 acres of land each year. Herbicide application is contracted out to county weed and pest officials, who do the ground-level spraying. Also, around $80,000 is allocated to Sheridan, Johnson, Bighorn, and Washakie counties each year for spraying operations, portions of which comprise the Bighorn National Forest.

Berrett added that the treatment of other kinds of plants is also addressed. Sagebrush is also part of them, which isn’t considered an invasive species.

“The plan covers other poisonous plants and we're not planning to eradicate or remove any of the native plants, that is not the intention at all, it's just a treat them in small areas so that we can improve the opportunity to manage livestock grazing, so not planning to eradicate [or] remove any native plants,” Berrett added. “Then you get into sagebrush and sagebrush is not considered an invasive or noxious plant at all, we know that it's a native plant. And we're not planning to remove or eradicate any of that as well.”

Berrett said considerations are also being made for wildlife habitat, including cattle, which ranchers can graze on Forest Service lands via a permit.

“A lot of the impacts are very similar for sagebrush treatment,” Berrett said. “We analyzed and looked at ways that we can treat sagebrush [and] we had about 40,000 acres, I think, that we'd already looked at in the past, but we wanted to look at all of our areas of sagebrush and see if we could potentially analyze the impacts of treatment to meet our desired conditions. When we say these are conditions, that can be a lot of different things we're looking at there from watershed protection to a wildlife habitat and livestock forage.”

There were plans last year to implement aerial herbicide application in 2022, but a final environmental impact statement needs to be issued as well as implementation meetings that need to be scheduled, which have delayed any of those plans until next year.

There has been a mix of support and opposition to the plans for herbicide usage, including from the Bighorn Audubon Society, which is concerned about the impacts to habitat for small bird species.

Objections to the Invasive and Other Select Plant Management on the Bighorn National Forest can be submitted through their website.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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