Muddy Creek Coordinated Resource Management Project

Posted: May 1, 2003

Updated: May 2011

Location: Muddy Creek watershed within the Little Snake River Conservation District in Carbon County, Wyoming

Objective: To protect, enhance and conserve the Muddy Creek watershed for healthy, sustainable use of natural resources for wildlife, livestock, energy, and recreation.

Challenges:

  • In order to avoid conflict, the Muddy Creek CRM project didn't address several contentious but important issues, including a predator management plan and a comprehensive travel plan for the area's road network
  • Coalbed methane development may very well represent a challenge that is beyond the scope of a local collaboration, no matter how cohesive
  • Expanding the group in order to conquer the bigger and more contentious issues

Project Summary:

In 1982, federal and Wyoming state agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding that called for coordinating natural resource management efforts in order to address widespread complaints that conflicting and overlapping agencies mandates resulted in inefficient and piecemeal management. The planning process that the agencies agreed to use was dubbed "Coordinated Resource Management" (CRM). In 1990, after a problematic start-up, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture assumed overall leadership of the CRM program, developed a training and facilitation program, provided technical support, and facilitated financial support for local CRM initiatives.

The Muddy Creek Coordinated Resource Management Project was established in 1991. The project brought together local ranchers, environmental groups, local government, and a long list of federal and state agencies under the leadership of the Little Snake River Conservation District and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) District Office. The initial goals of the project included:

  • Increasing cooperation, coordination, and trust among landowners, agencies, and interest groups;
  • Demonstrating that properly managed livestock grazing can be
    compatible with consumptive and non-consumptive use of the area's
    multiple resources;
  • Managing upland habitats to improve their biodiversity and productivity for selected wildlife species and domestic livestock;
  • Improving critical ranges for antelope, elk, and deer in the area;
  • Improving water quality and reduce erosion and sedimentation and restoring the riparian habitats to desired condition;
  • Re-establishing Colorado River cutthroat trout.

In 2003, the area experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, but due to the Muddy Creek Coordinated Resource Management project, the area was able to survive. The CRM group focused on improving grazing land shared by cattle, elk, deer, and antelope, as well as fish habitat in Muddy Creek. Ranchers have opted to spend more time moving cattle around, reducing the duration that a herd grazes on a pasture, and leaving it to rest once the herd has moved on. Creative water developments, including stock tanks built from giant tires and pits along roads designed to collect runoff, keep cattle out of creek bottoms, allowing willows to grow and the stream channel to deepen, providing shade and cool water for fish. Prescribed burning has opened up crowded sagebrush stands to new aspen growth and road improvements have reduced erosion into Muddy Creek. 

An estimated 50 percent to 60 percent of the Muddy Creek CRM area will be affected by coalbed methane development.Coalbed methane, a form of natural gas, is extracted by pumping water from shallow coal seams, allowing the gas to flow to the surface, where it's compressed and collected via a network of pipelines. In many areas, the water is spilled onto the surface land, eventually running into steams and rivers. But in the Muddy Creek area, the water is pumped back underground because it's too salty.

The development not only brings well pads, pipelines, and noisy compressor stations, but also a network of roads and power lines, increased traffic, and the spread of noxious weeds. "CBM transcends every resource parameter," says Hicks. "Everyone knows it needs to be dealt with." 

Accomplishments:

By adopting a management style that was compatible with local cultural norms, and focusing on non-contentious issues in the beginning, the Muddy Creek CRM project created an atmosphere of trust and open communication that resulted in a number of successful initiatives, which included:

  • Raising $2 million was to fund restoration projects;
  • Establishing rest-rotation grazing regimes that resulted in significant improvement in riparian habitat and stream condition;
  • Reintroducing the Colorado River cutthroat;
  • Restoring a 1,300 acre mosaic of wetlands;
  • Conducting prescribed burns to remove brush and re-establish native grasses;
  • Reclaiming five miles of road and improving another 66 miles of roads to reduce runoff and erosion.

Despite continuing drought that caused some streams to dry up for the first time on record, rangeland in the Muddy Creek drainage has fared much better than anyone might have expected.

Lessons Learned:

  • Begin with small-scale and relatively non-contentious projects. Andy Warren, a BLM range conservationist who worked closely with the Muddy Creek CRM, agrees. "We were able to agree on things like improvements to roads and closing dual roads that went to the same place," says Warren. 
  • But realize that eventually collaborative efforts will have to address the contentious issues 
  • Consider if you want to simply monitor what you've already accomplished, or take on new challenges 
  • Don't spread the group too thin over too many projects 

Additional Information:

EPA's website on the project: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/success319/Section319III_WY.cfm

Contact Information: Brian Lovett, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, blovet@state.wy.us 

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