Habitat & Conservation  |  12/29/2023

Revitalizing Wyoming's Upland Wet Meadow Habitat


A Tale of Conservation, Restoration and Collaboration

By: Linette Sutphin

In northeast Wyoming, where rolling sagebrush hills meet the endless sky, a plan is underway to conserve and rejuvenate upland wet meadows. 

Upland wet meadows, also referred to as “mesic” meadows are like nature’s groundwater reservoirs. Imagine a sponge that soaks up water and then slowly lets it out. These meadows do the same thing—they store water and release it gradually.

As summer transitions into fall in the semi-arid shortgrass prairie, these meadows remain green while the surrounding uplands dry out. This vegetation is like a grocery store for wildlife, and the resulting plants and insects play a crucial role as food for developing sage grouse chicks.

The Wyoming project is situated on rangeland within the Buffalo Sage-Grouse core area, and is part of a larger initiative across the state that will impact over 7,500 acres of sagebrush/sage grouse habitat. The work will benefit both livestock and wildlife by addressing soil erosion, fostering floodplain connectivity and improving drought resilience.

At the heart of this endeavor lies the restoration of mesic upland draws surrounding sage grouse leks, via a low-tech, process-based approach known as “Zeedyk” structures. As water meanders through seasonal drainages these structures guide its flow, slowing its progression and allowing sediment to settle. These hand-built structures mitigate erosion and restore floodplain connectivity — aiming to boost overall plant and insect productivity. 

Betty Falxa, the owner of Falxa Ranch where the project took place, played a pivotal role in making this initiative a reality. Falxa Ranch is a haven for Wyoming wildlife, including sage grouse, mule deer, pronghorn, badgers, reptiles and amphibians. The property spans over 22,000 acres, including five miles of the Powder River. Falxa and her late husband Martin have dedicated many years to wildlife conservation, recognizing the crucial role of healthy ranchland in supporting the diverse wildlife of the Powder River Basin. As committed land stewards with a passion for wildlife conservation, Martin and Betty serve as an inspiration to all, illustrating the influential role landowners play in driving positive change.

Thanks to a generous donation to Pheasants Forever from a private donor, the project at Falxa ranch was launched with a low-tech mesic habitat restoration workshop last fall. The two-day workshop brought together landowners, livestock producers, contractors and habitat restoration professionals. Led by Paul Jones of Tomichi Creek Ecosystem Services, thirty-one participants engaged in comprehensive discussions and practical demonstrations aimed at exploring practices for the recovery and sustained management of critical mesic habitat. The workshop was bolstered by collaborative support from partner organizations such as the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture, the World Wildlife Fund, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partners for Wildlife, Clear Creek Conservation District and the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. Local contributions, including classroom space provided by a landowner, materials and equipment from Sheridan Community Land Trust, JL and Sons Logging and Home Depot, also played a substantial role in the workshop's success.

The endeavor received additional support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – ConocoPhillips SPIRIT of Conservation grant. These financial contributions enable Pheasants Forever and their partners to expand the project's impact in Northeast Wyoming and ensure that future generations can witness the spectacular display of sage-grouse dancing on the prairie. This work is a testament to the power of collaboration, resilience and steadfast devotion to the land.

It's remarkable what can happen when a community comes together, fueled by a shared passion for conservation. Thanks to the donor, who has committed additional funding in 2024, and everyone who played a part. 

We’ve set the wheels in motion for something truly special.