Wildlife habitat management

Numerous streams, lakes, reservoirs, varied topography, climate, and vegetation of the Bighorn National Forest provide habitats for an abundance of native fish and wildlife, including many of the most striking animals found in North America.

1. What is wildlife habitat?

Big game species like deer and elk require open areas with grass and shrubs for foraging. This habitat can be created through timber harvest, prescribed burning, developing watering sites, and seeding logged areas. Cover and forage created through timber harvest or burning usually exists for a relatively short time (approximately 10 to 20 years) until trees once again take over the site.

Big game also need seclusion or security areas. These areas can be managed by closing or obliterating roads. Generally, the more miles of road per section of land (640 acres) results in a decrease of the effectiveness of the habitat for those animals using the area. Research has shown that this can result in a reduction of animal numbers, which could ultimately result in decreased opportunities for the public to hunt and view wildlife.

Other species prefer mature or old growth forests. While some management activities such as burning may enhance habitat characteristics, it is generally easiest to simply set aside adequate portions of the Forest for these species. Maintaining movement corridors or linkage areas between these set asides also helps to provide for these species.

Snags are another important habitat component. Dead, dying, and hollow trees provide food and shelter for a wide variety of animals. The Forest Service manages for snags by retaining those not considered a safety hazard during harvest operations, by creating new ones, or by leaving green replacement trees during harvest. Restricting public firewood gathering to certain areas also helps the Forest Service protect snags. Most snags retained in a managed area are identified or marked with paint or a wildlife tree sign.

2. How are wildlife populations managed?

The Forest Service is responsible for managing the habitat by developing management programs based on the best available information and by working closely with state wildlife management agencies. By providing for a diversity of plant and animal communities or habitats (nesting, roosting, feeding, denning, etc.), we provide the habitat necessary to maintain wildlife populations. This habitat is what the state wildlife management agencies depend on for managing wildlife populations.

For more information visit the Wyoming Game and Fish Department

3. What is a sensitive species?

A sensitive species is a plant, bird, mammal, reptile/amphibian, fish, or invertebrate (beetles, snails etc.) designated by the regional forester when population viability is a concern, when current population and/or habitats have been reduced/restricted, when populations and/or habitats are considered vulnerable to certain management activities, or when species require a special emphasis to ensure that they do not move toward listing as threatened or endangered. A sensitive species designation is strictly Forest Service policy. It is not directly related to federally listed threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

4. What does the Forest Service do to protect threatened and endangered species?

Threatened and endangered species are identified and listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Forest Service conducts field surveys to establish the location of threatened and endangered species. Information from these surveys is used to identify areas which need to be protected, and areas where habitat improvement projects may be necessary. Wildlife biologists also use the information to monitor known populations and determine if management or lack of management is having an effect on the species.

For more information visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

5. What is fragmentation and how does it affect wildlife?

Fragmentation is the breaking up of contiguous areas into progressively smaller patches. The resulting patches can result in species being isolated within a limited range which can result in limited gene pools and limited habitat availability. Much of the research on fragmentation has been in areas where the fragmentation or habitat changes are associated with agriculture or urban development. These tend to be very long term or permanent changes in habitats.