Important Bird Areas

Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Wyoming

Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) encompasses a 20-mile stretch of the Bear River and associated wetlands and uplands located south of Cokeville, Wyoming. The Refuge was established in 1993 with the purchase of the first land tract. This area possesses unique wetland values that support migratory and resident populations of wildlife in numbers not found in many other locations in the state. The purpose of Cokeville Meadows NWR is to preserve and protect wetland habitat for its waterfowl and other migratory bird values; for public education and interpretive values; and for public recreation values. The Bear River provides the hydrologic base for this wetland (cattail, bulrush, rush, sedge), riparian (willow, cottonwood), and adjacent upland (sagebrush/grassland, cultivated grassland, cropland) community. It provides both nesting and foraging habitat for a variety of waterfowl and colonial waterbird species. Within the Cokeville Meadows NWR at least 65 species of waterbirds have been observed and 32 are recorded as nesting species. The Refuge currently owns 8,106 acres in fee title and easement within the approved acquisition boundary of 26, 657 acres. Ongoing acquisition is from willing sellers only.

Ornithological Summary

Most of the wetlands associated with the Bear River in and adjacent to Cokeville Meadows NWR were created in the early 1900?s as the result of flood irrigation for agricultural purposes. The area features large contiguous tracts of wet meadow habitat interspersed with marshes and sloughs, providing ideal nesting and migratory habitat for a diversity of bird life. Adjacent agricultural fields also provide a supplemental food supply of small grains and alfalfa that birds such as waterfowl and sandhill cranes readily utilize, particularly during migration. Refuge management will integrate traditional agricultural methods, such as haying and grazing, into the landscape in an effort to maintain the health and vigor of vegetative communities while placing an increased emphasis on maintaining and improving quality nesting cover and wetland habitat.

The Bear River Valley provides one of the largest wetland marsh complexes in western Wyoming. The wetlands and surrounding agricultural lands provide critical resting and feeding habitat for migrating birds including sandhill cranes and an occasional whooping crane, Canada geese and other waterfowl species, Franklin?s gulls, and many other bird species. The area provides nesting habitat for a large diversity of bird species including sandhill cranes, Canada geese, many diving and dabbling duck species, and other unique bird species such as American bitterns, black terns, and white-faced ibis. Historically, Cokeville Meadows NWR was recognized as one of the best redhead duck production areas in the state and is situated on one of the main migration corridors for the species in their movement to the Texas Gulf Coast. With sage grouse leks located on nearby public lands, Refuge habitats are utilized by nesting and foraging adults and are undoubtedly important areas for brood rearing.

Conservation Issues

Utilize existing water rights to protect and maintain those rights. Water rights issues within the Bear River Valley are complex. Development of a Refuge water management plan will assist staff with identifying, understanding, and protecting existing water rights.
Continue to acquire private land from willing sellers. Pursue the exchange of State and BLM lands that are within the Refuge boundary. Pursue the acquisition of conservation easements where appropriate.
Continue current irrigation practices, maintaining wet meadows and wetland areas.
Rehabilitate irrigation infrastructure to improve water delivery and holding capabilities, particularly for brood rearing of migratory birds.
Continue to manage habitat through improved selective haying and grazing. Defer haying activities in wet meadow areas until after August 1st annually. Consider utilizing prescribed burning as a habitat management tool when appropriate staff are available and additional land is acquired.
Continue aggressive invasive weed species management to contain infestations and improve existing habitat.
Monitor site for West Nile Virus and other wildlife diseases.
Continue annual census/surveys to monitor wildlife populations.
Work closely with Refuge Cooperators under Special Use Permits to accomplish Refuge goals.

Ownership

Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) encompasses a 20-mile stretch of the Bear River and associated wetlands and uplands located south of Cokeville, Wyoming. The Refuge was established in 1993 with the purchase of the first land tract. The purpose of Cokeville Meadows NWR is to preserve and protect wetland habitat for its waterfowl and other migratory bird values; for public education and interpretive values; and for public recreation values. The Refuge currently owns 8,106 acres in fee title and easement within the approved acquisition boundary of 26, 657 acres. Ongoing acquisition is from willing sellers only.

Habitat

Cokeville Meadows NWR is primarily wetland habitat (53%) with the secondary habitats consisting of sagebrush shrublands (23%), grasslands (15%), lowland riparian (3%), open water (3%), and rural/agriculture (3%). This area possesses unique wetland values that support migratory and resident populations of wildlife in numbers not found in many other locations in the state. The purpose of Cokeville Meadows NWR is to preserve and protect wetland habitat for its waterfowl and other migratory bird values; for public education and interpretive values; and for public recreation values. The Bear River provides the hydrologic base for this wetland (cattail, bulrush, rush, sedge), riparian (willow, cottonwood), and adjacent upland (sagebrush/grassland, cultivated grassland, cropland) community. It provides both nesting and foraging habitat for a variety of waterfowl and colonial waterbird species. Within the Cokeville Meadows NWR at least 65 species of waterbirds have been observed and 32 are recorded as nesting species.

Land Use

Irrigation - Extensive irrigation from the Bear River, Smithsfork River, and groundwater wells historically has created the complex of wet meadows and sloughs for a hay production and cropping. Existing irrigation infrastructure is used on Refuge lands to maintain wildlife habitat.

Livestock grazing - unregulated grazing can result in water pollution, nutrient loading, vegetation removal, and soil loss, particularly in riparian areas. The Refuge?s establishing EIS commits the Refuge to a specified level of grazing. As additional lands are acquired and habitat plans are developed, appropriately managed grazing, in accordance with the Refuge?s establishing EIS, will be utilized to improve and maintain Refuge habitats.

Haying meadow grass - Traditional haying of wet meadows begins in early August and poses little threat to nesting birds. However, extensive haying in addition to aftermath grazing can significantly reduce available nesting cover. Also, the cessation of irrigation in early to mid-July to dry out areas for haying reduces available brood rearing habitat. The Refuge?s establishing EIS commits the Refuge to a specified level of haying. As additional lands are acquired and habitat plans are developed, appropriately managed haying, in accordance with the Refuge?s establishing EIS, will be utilized to improve and maintain Refuge habitats.

Cropping - Cropping of small grains, alfalfa, and alfalfa/grass mix provides a valuable commodity crop for local ranchers on private lands. The Refuge?s establishing EIS commits the Refuge to a specified level of cropping to provide a lure crop for wildlife to protect from depredation on adjacent private lands. As additional lands are acquired and habitat plans are developed, appropriately managed cropping, in accordance with the Refuge?s establishing EIS, will be utilized to improve and maintain Refuge habitats