2017 Success: Little Popo Agie Watershed Improvement Project

Popo Agie Wilderness, Shoshone National Forest.Shoshone National Forest is the first federally protected National Forest in the United States and covers nearly 2,500,000 acres in the state of Wyoming.  Originally a part of the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve, the forest is managed by the United States Forest Service and was created by an act of Congress and signed into law by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison in 1891. Shoshone National Forest is one of the first nationally protected land areas anywhere!

Shoshone National Forest recently (spring 2017) completed a watershed improvement project near the town of Lander, WY on the Washakie Ranger District. Lander is world-renowned for excellent rock climbing. In recent years, local climbers have developed a crag known as Wolf Point, located in the dramatic Little Popo Agie River canyon. Rock climbers from countries around the world have made Wolf Point a destination because it is home to some of the most challenging rock climbs in North America. To access this destination, climbers must take a high clearance Forest Road that traverses below rocky outcrops, through streams and across seasonally wet meadows. As interest in the area and use has increased, so has the frequency of intense early season rain events, resulting in greater impact to the road surface and surrounding environments. Braiding of the road has become common through some segments, causing artificially lowered groundwater tables, loss of terrestrial and riparian vegetation, and the dewatering of perennial streams.

The Central Wyoming Climbers Alliance hosts the International Climbers Festival in mid-July of each year. The Festival has been taking place for over 20 years and one of the events during the weeklong festival involves a community service project. In 2016, forty volunteers from across the country worked with Forest Service Engineers and Hydrologists to repair and reduce resource damage on the road that accesses Wolf Point.

Watershed improvements in 2016 included: reconstructing one mile of road immediately adjacent to Pass Creek, which had become severely gullied which deposited sediment directly into the stream, replacing 6 failed culverts, obliterating nearly 2000 feet of braided 2-track, reconstructing 3 low-water crossings and approaches, and installing 300 feet of Geoblock in a wet meadow to create a sustainable driving surface and reduce erosion. This project is moving forward in 2017 and 2018 with additional phases to further reduce erosion from system and non-system roads in the watershed through re-routing a quarter-mile of deeply incised road segments, re-constructing over 2 miles of eroding roads, obliterating nearly 2 miles of unauthorized routes, and monitoring and hardening additional low-water crossings.

This project improved Little Popo Agie watershed by reducing siltation, allowing free flow of the stream, and returning stable groundwater tables to support riparian vegetation re-colonization! The Little Popo Agie is an important fishery in the region, being very popular with anglers and supporting Region 2 Sensitive Species (Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout & possible Boreal Toad & Northern Leopard Frog populations). Additionally, the reduction of road-derived sediment in the headwaters benefits the lower watershed as several miles downstream of this project, a major tributary to the Little Popo Agie has had excess sediment identified as a pollutant by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. This project supports the Forest Service mission to provide abundant and clean water.

Photos of the project

Before:

Before repairing the road that accesses Wolf Point

After:

After repairing the road that accesses Wolf Point

Braided section of road being rehabilitated:

Braided section of road being rehabilitated 2

Worker shoveling the deep ruts in the road