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The Bighorn National Forest has changed plans for treating invasive species in response to objections

Tim Schleicher
Flickr via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Trees, bushes, and other plant vegetation grow in the Bighorn National Forest. Forest officials have removed mountain big sagebrush and duncecap larkspur from the final decision of a plan to treat invasive plant species and sagebrush throughout the forest.

Bighorn National Forest officials recently concluded a resolution meeting with several objectors regarding the Invasive and Other Select Plant Management project meant to treat invasive species. It resulted in forest officials issuing a change in the plans, which consist of removing the treatment of two native plant species from the project’s final decision. Those species are mountain big sagebrush and duncecap larkspur.

“We had ended up with five valid objections,” said Thad Berrett, District Ranger for the Powder River Ranger District.

The objections were all similar and were related to the concerns about the treatment of native plant species and how herbicides were to be applied.

“All five of them had objections related to the treatment of native plants,” Berrett said. “Either sagebrush or the duncecap larkspur that was, larkspur was considered a[n] invasive plant, according to our definitions within the plan, but all of them had some relation to that. Some of them were specific concerns about spraying tebuthiuron aerially, which primarily would have been for sagebrush. Tebuthiuron can be used for other plants as well but the biggest proposal within the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] for that was to treat sagebrush, so therefore, that one was linked back to the sagebrush. And then again, most of the rest had concerns about some aerial treatment, but most of them were more about the treatment of native plants.”

Forest officials say there is still a need for a desired mix of structural stages for sagebrush. Current National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents allow for a variety of treatment options to be used on approximately 42 percent of sagebrush habitat in the forest. They said additional work was needed to analyze this part of the proposal and they may study this more in a future project.

In order for the changes to take place, the national forest has to notify the federal government. That process can take several months. Meanwhile, the forest will finish the project’s development and planning.

Berrett said the objections have been dropped since they removed the treatment of native plants.

“We'll be doing less herbicide application, especially from the air, and then we've got quite a few resource protection measures in the plan to address aerial application,” he said. “So hopefully, that [will] ease the concerns over aerial application that we've got those resource protection measures to follow.”

While the treatment of invasive plant species has been carried out in the forest for years, once approved, this new plan will be in effect by the summer of 2023. This project introduced aerial treatment, which hasn’t been done before.

“People could see us using drones or the aerial methods to treat this year if we, in our annual implementation meetings, decide that's needed and the best tool available, that'll be something new for us,” Berrett said. “We're looking forward to being able to treat the hard to reach back country type locations with those tools.”

Other long-time treatment methods, such as prescribed fire and mowing, will also be utilized if they’re deemed necessary and useful. Future analysis will also be undertaken to determine whether they would like to treat sagebrush in the future, and if so, will make sure they take into consideration what has been learned from the current process as to whether certain treatments are needed or not.

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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