Resource Management

CMNWR Fall Grazing Management 512x320

Cattle graze on Cokeville Meadows in the fall after haying.  Cattle and haying help to open up areas of dense vegetation and make more nutrients available.  Sunlight can reach the soil and jump-start bugs and plants in the spring, which are important sources of food in early spring migration as well as for local wildlife.


Currently Cokeville Meadows is managed as a satellite of Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, which is located 75 miles to the east. The Refuge recently opened to public access.  Hunting regulations brochure lines out special refuge regulations in each area.  A short walking trail offers wildlife viewing and potential photography opportunities at the information kiosk on the west side of HWY 30 approximately 10 miles south of the town of Cokeville.

 

Refuge lands are posted with boundary signs and evaluated for wildlife use, habitat potential, invasive weeds, fencing needs, contaminants, and other items. Under Special Use Permits, local ranchers and Refuge managers mutually benefit by working cooperatively to reach Refuge habitat goals and project goals. Ranchers assist Refuge staff with irrigation of wet meadows and semi-permanent wetlands, water rights retention, maintenance of ditches and other irrigation facilities, while maintaining the vigor of wet meadow vegetation through selective haying & grazing. Cooperative agreements with local ranchers also helps accomplish a variety of important refuge projects such as weed control, conversion of marginal croplands to permanent native vegetation, fence maintenance and construction, as well as cleanup of old junk piles and old fence. Cooperative farming provides food and cover for resident and migrating wildlife.  In exchange, ranchers graze, hay and harvest crops of equal or less value for their labor and financial investment. Twenty five percent of total value of crops, hay, or grazed AUMs (Animal Unit Monthly) is collected and put toward annual PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) payments to the county. PILT payments are a way for counties to re-coup the loss of property tax revenue from land acquired by the Refuge.  Refuge staff also work with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and other stakeholders to identify and achieve management goals and objectives. Refuge staff and biologists from Wyoming Game and Fish Department also conduct annual wildlife surveys.

Cokeville Meadows NWR is a relatively new refuge, with limited staff from Seedskadee to help with projects on the refuge. Management activities often focus on working cooperatively with local ranchers to accomplish projects and management goals.  

 

Grazing

Grazing is an important management tool and is important for maintaining healthy and productive grasslands and wetlands. When used properly, grazing removes old vegetation, stimulates new plant growth, restructures vegetation, affects plant species composition, and enhances habitat diversity. Hoof impact by grazing animals can break up capped soils, improve the water cycle, stimulate vegetative reproduction of stoloniferous plants, and enhance the decomposition of old plant material by breaking up plant litter and speeding up the nutrient cycle. Hoof action can also distribute and trample seeds into soils, increasing chances of successful germination. Nutrients are returned to the soil in the form of urine and feces.  Areas in wetlands that are thick cattails can be opened up, to let light reach the shallow water below, which will stimulate early spring plant growth and invertebrate production.  This can be an important food source for early migrating waterfowl.

 

Prescribed Fire

Fire can be very important to the natural health and vigor of wetlands and is used as a management tool on some areas of the refuge. Fire is used to remove litter, control noxious weeds, eliminate junk/fence piles, reduce vegetation or to improve the height and density of plant cover. Fire releases nutrients tied up in vegetative matter and removes dead vegetation that inhibits new growth. Fire can be used to suppress exotic plant species or prevent the invasion of woody species, such as juniper, into native grasslands; however, fire may also allow invasion of fire tolerant species such as cheat grass and spotted knapweed. Regrowth following fire can be especially attractive to wildlife because of the increased nutrition and palatability of new plants.

 

Haying and Mowing

Haying and mowing management strategies are generally used to enhance mixed stands of tame grass and native sedges and rushes and keep them from becoming decadent and less productive habitat.  Removing the vegetation allows the sun to jump start vegetation and invertebrates in the spring, and provides feed for migrating and nesting waterfowl.  Mowing is also used to control spread of invasive weeds. Haying removes residual, dead, and matted vegetation and stimulates new growth, which improves habitat structure and diversity. Seed production, seed germination, and growth of desirable plants can result from properly timed haying.


Cooperative Farming

When Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was established, it was recognized that in this area of Wyoming, farm ground provides a valuable habitat component as a stopover place for migrating birds.  Some of the refuge was acquired with cropland that contained stands of tame grasses instead of native habitat. In some of these cases, the goal is to transition the cropland back to native cover.  Where restoration to a native condition is not feasible or desirable, farming is continued. If tame grass stands are in very poor condition or have serious weed problems, farming to create a clean seedbed may be required for 2 – 4 years or potentially longer if adequate rainfall prohibits native seedings from being successful. 

 

Water Management

Most of the wetlands within Cokeville Meadows are partially subject to natural flooding and drying cycles, however they are also intensively managed and manipulated within the confines of our water rights.  The Refuge receives water from several different irrigation ditches that draw water from the Bear River and also from the Smith's Fork.  When the refuge was established, there was no reserved water right that the refuge received, only water rights that are acquired with the lands purchased are used on the refuge.  Much of the water management is done in partnership with our neighbors.  Many of the irrigation ditches have a number of water users along the ditch who have to coordinate water use.