The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is planning a conifer removal project on Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat Management Area south of Dubois.
The Torrey Rim conifer removal project aims to mechanically remove limber pine, juniper, lodgepole pine and Douglas fir from targeted areas along the Torrey Rim slope, just above Whiskey Mountain Conservation Camp to benefit bighorn sheep. The project will commence in the coming weeks, with up to 120 acres of conifer thinning occurring within the wildlife habitat management area.
A technical committee with representation from Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management identified Torrey Rim, Sheep Ridge and BLM Ridge as areas where mechanical conifer removal could be completed to open up winter ranges and movement areas historically used by bighorn sheep. These cleared areas will link preferred foraging habitats with mineral licks, watering locations and loafing/foraging areas.
Stands of conifers identified for removal were selected based on GPS collar data indicating how bighorn sheep use or avoid this area as they move up and down Torrey Rim. Areas surrounding cultural resources will not be disturbed.
Habitat improvement is one of the key aspects addressed in the 2019 Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep Management Plan. One strategy identified in the plan to conserve the Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd is to utilize habitat management prescriptions and wildfire to decrease conifer cover and otherwise enhance and expand winter ranges and bighorn sheep migration paths.
In addition to conifer removal, a prescribed burn is planned in the area as soon as an appropriate burn window presents itself, ideally this fall. Funding for these efforts have been provided by Game and Fish, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation and Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust.
Terrestrial Habitat Biologist Amy Anderson said bighorn sheep are highly opportunistic foragers and require a diverse, open and rugged landscape to optimally forage and to avoid predators.
“Conifer encroachment has dramatically altered many areas that were once open and dominated by grasses and forbs,” Anderson said. “Over time, more and more trees fill in and actively dry these sites out, reduce understory herbaceous forage, and close sight distances that bighorn sheep need to feel secure on the landscape.”
“Removing conifers before they develop into a dense forest is both ecologically and economically sensible,” Anderson added.