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EQIP and Partnerships Help Make Conservation Vision a Reality

Larry Hicks by the Little Snake River in Baggs.Baggs, in south central Wyoming, is a community of about 450. With high participation rates by producers in Farm Bill programs, the local conservation district stepped up conservation efforts by leveraging partnerships.

“I have spent the last 10 years learning what to do and not what to do,” said Larry Hicks, natural resource director for the Little Snake River Conservation District. “This has been a big journey. But it really began 20 years earlier. It started with grazing issues, riparian restoration - in a natural progression to improve stream habitat,” he said.

As a member of the state Senate since 2011, Hicks is no stranger to sitting down with people holding diverse agendas and priorities.  “It is a long arduous task where sometimes it is more difficult to get people working together than doing the actual conservation work.  There were a lot of meetings, a lot of consulting tours.”

Case in point: There were 32 diverse interests involved in the environmental assessment for a project to restore approximately six channel-miles of the Little Snake River, upstream from Baggs. The goal is to improve aquatic habitat and restore the channel to a properly functioning condition.

The final environmental assessment was completed in 2013.

Commonality
Despite differences, Hicks said that when people start talking, they find a common ground. “Many of their issues overlap,” he said.

The Little Snake River Restoration Project came about after a series of smaller-scale projects done elsewhere by the conservation district.  “There were a myriad of issues hanging out there and that lead us to a discussion of restoration issues,” Hicks said. “We started by taking a watershed view, a system-wide view and meshed all the projects.”

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
Using NRCS’ EQIP funding as leverage, Hicks and conservation partners were able to find other funding sources. In the past four years, NRCS was able to fund five EQIP contracts for this watershed restoration project.

According to Mark Shirley, district conservationist for Carbon County, NRCS had a Conservation Activity Program pilot in 2009 for the Little Snake River Watershed. “We wrote 13 EQIP contracts with landowners to hire a technical service provider and write a conservation grazing plan,” he said. “Larry and the district supported this effort by contacting landowners and encouraging them to apply, as well as providing supplemental funding to pay for the plans.”

The restoration project is important to Baggs, Hick said. Practices include streambank stabilization to protect hayfields and irrigation infrastructure; a diversion structure; and riparian and stream habitat enhancements.  The project will result in increased passage of native fish through three irrigation diversion structures; reduced loss of agricultural lands and irrigation infrastructure; improved fish and wildlife habitat; reduced sedimentation in the Baggs water infiltration gallery; and  reduced flooding in Baggs.

Past Successes
In 2012, Hicks received the Conservation Partner Award from Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV), an organization that furthers bird habitat conservation through science and partnerships across 11 states in the West. It was recognition for his work on the Muddy Creek Wetlands. 

“Hicks was essential in establishing the Muddy Creek Wetlands (near Dad, Wyoming), the largest constructed wetland complex in Wyoming with over 700 acres of seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands. The complex supports up to 50,000 ducks during migration and a host of breeding shorebirds, including American avocet and Black-necked stilts,” according to IWJV.

EQIP funding played a role in the Muddy Creek Wetlands. The Weber Duck Pond (completed in 2009) and the Adams Duck Pond (completed in 2010) were made possible with EQIP. In addition, NRCS provided funding for engineering expertise, Shirley said.

Other NRCS partner projects include:

  • Establishment of the Cottonwood-Savery EQIP Priority Area. With the conservation district as a key partner, several EQIP contract were written and implemented that resulted in numerous range water development and fencing projects to facilitate improved grazing plans.
  • Stream restoration work on Battle Creek was made possible when the conservation district found funding sources to match NRCS funding.

Least Populated; Not the Smallest
The Little Snake River Conservation District is the least populated district in Wyoming, but it is not the smallest, Hicks said. Residents of Baggs and the surrounding area take conservation seriously, he said. In 1990, taxpayers approved a mill levy for conservation. In 1994, and in 1998, the mill levy was approved again.

“Most people are directly or indirectly attached to the land. What is happening in Baggs is not unique. The community has a progressive, conservation ethic and it ripples throughout.”