On Wednesday, May 25, Grand Teton National Park will begin habitat restoration projects in the southern region of the park, specifically focusing on the sagebrush. The national park aims to replace 4,500 acres of non-native grass fields with the native plants that nourish continue to nourish the variety of wildlife that call this region home.
Grand Teton is home to quite a few foraging species, like elk, bison, moose, pronghorn and sage grouse. All of these species rely on the abundance of flowers and shrubs that the sagebrush provides. However, because of the presence of invasive species, these native plants have become increasingly scarce.
“Beginning in the late 1800s, Jackson Hole homesteaders converted large swaths of local sagebrush steppe habitat to hayfields for agricultural use,” the park explained in an official release. “The smooth brome they planted provided their livestock with nutrition year-round as the hay could be stored for winter use. Since this time, the homesteaders have moved away from Antelope Flats and other areas of Grand Teton. However, the converted pastures have persisted, decreasing the value to wildlife in the heart of year-round habitation and migration corridors.”
Over the years, vegetation experts have taken action to ensure that the sagebrush remains a part of the park.
“Grand Teton National Park Foundation has successfully raised funds for this project from dozens of individual donors, and garnered ongoing support from Teton Conservation District, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Alpyn Beauty,” the release stated. “With the fundraising and partnership support of the Foundation, the park has worked to return these pastures to their former, native glory.”
See before and after photos of the Grand Teton’s sagebrush here.
Grand Teton National Park Works to Remove Non-Native Grasses from Sagebrush
The process of restoring Grand Teton’s sagebrush isn’t as simple as spraying weed remover. In fact, as the park’s release explained, the process of replacing the non-native plant species is fairly complex.
Currently, there are 1,400 acres of Grand Teton sagebrush that are in different stages of restoration. The furthest along contains a wide variety of wildflowers, grasses and shrubs ideal for native pollinators and animals. Areas that are in the beginning stages of the restoration process may only have minimal greenery.
“During restoration operations, park staff apply herbicide by tractor, UTV, and backpack sprayers,” the park stated. “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.”
Grand Teton officials will begin restoration efforts on 200 acres of former hayfields in the Antelope Flats. At another site, vegetation experts will focus on restoring sage grouse habitat.