MOOSE, Wyo. —This summer, Grand Teton National Park staff will work to replace approximately 4,500 acres of former non-native grass field with native sagebrush steppe habitat.

Habitat restoration projects will take place in the southern part of the park.

Large swaths of local sagebrush steppe habitat were converted to hayfields for agricultural use by Jackson Hole homesteaders back in the 1800s.

The smooth brome homesteaders planted provided their livestock with nutrition year-round as the hay could be stored for winter use. Homesteaders have since moved away from Antelope Flats and other areas of Grand Teton. But the converted pastures have persisted, decreasing the value to wildlife in the heart of year-round habitation and migration corridors.

“A healthy sagebrush ecosystem in Grand Teton is vital for the diversity and abundance of native plants and wildlife species like elk, bison, moose, pronghorn, and sage grouse that rely on them.”

C.J. Adams, Grand Teton National Park

Since 2007, Grand Teton park staff, through the support of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, have worked to return these pastures to their native sagebrush steppe habitat. This is a long-term project and successful restoration of these areas takes years to complete. To date, 1,400 acres are in various stages of restoration, with areas furthest along containing diverse, well-established native plants that provide a source of food and shelter for a wide range of pollinators and wildlife. Wildflowers, sagebrush, and other native plants can now be seen in these locations.

On Wednesday, May 25, park staff from vegetation ecology and management at Grand Teton will initiate restoration on 200 acres of former hayfields. During this operation, staff will apply herbicide to remove non-native pasture grass at two different locations.

The first of these sites, 90 acres located in the South Slough unit west of Mormon Row, is part of the Antelope Flats sagebrush habitat restoration called for in the 2007 Elk and Bison Management Plan.

The second site where restoration work will take place is 110 acres located in the McBride unit south of the Jackson Hole Airport and east of North Spring Gulch Road. This project specifically aims to restore sage grouse habitat.

During restoration operations, park staff apply herbicide by tractor, UTV, and backpack sprayers. The application results in dead vegetation and bare ground. When non-native grass has been successfully removed, park staff will seed with a mix of native grasses, shrubs (including sagebrush), and forbs (wildflowers), monitor and treat for invasive weed species, and take other corrective actions to successfully re-establish this important plant community for the long-term.

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Buckrail @ Caroline

Caroline Chapman is a Community News Reporter. She's a lover of alliteration, easy-to-follow recipes and board games when everyone knows the rules. Her favorite aspect about living in the Tetons is the collective admiration that Wyomingites share for the land and the life that it sustains.