• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is implementing climate change adaptations in order to improve habitat functionality of the Soda Lake WHMA & wetlands complex. The project includes; enhancing hydraulic processes, engaging the public, habitat improvements, and long term maintenance plans. The Department Habitat Biologists hope to increase the habitat diversity, mitigate drought conditions, and provide for public recreation in the area.

Project Area

Soda Lake Wetlands (post-renovation)
Soda Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Area is located approximately 6 miles north of Pinedale, Wyoming and is home to approximately 800 elk that are fed from horse-drawn sleighs from December to April each year. In addition, the Soda Lake fishery contains populations of Brook and Brown trout and is a very popular fishing location for many. The native plants and adjacent public lands provide spring and fall grazing for elk and many other wildlife species. The longest migration route in the United States for Mule deer and Antelope bisects the WHMA. The Soda Lake area provides access to the Bridger Wilderness, as well as the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the largest forest in the lower 48 states.

Management Goals

Aerial view of Soda Lake wetlands.
  • Improve habitat functionality of Soda Lake wetlands with specific plans for habitat diversity, climate, change adaptation, and public recreation.
  • Engage the public in wildlife and wetland habitat conservation, climate change education, and recreation.
  • Enhance and protect hydrologic processes, water control, and water quality for Soda Lake wetlands complex and Soda Lake.
  • Restore and maintain diverse sources of food, water, and cover and components of habitat.
  • Establish and enhance protected area/habitat reserves.
  • Add an additional water source pumping 80-90 gallons per minute into the wetlands by late July.

Climate Change Impacts

Key climate change impacts for this project include:
Temperatures in the Northern Great Plains are projected to increase, affecting the wetlands forage growing season and resilience, and contributing to invasive grass species. The increased average temperature will continue to increase evapotranspiration.
Higher temperatures increase evapotranspiration, decrease habitat value in riparian zones, wetlands, and the lake itself. Higher temperatures will result in decreased snowpack and shifting peak run off season allowing reduced soil moisture sooner.
There are fewer cool days projected by mid-century. Snowpack is fundamental for supplying late season water to aquifers and saturation of wetlands, and with fewer cool days, soil moisture will be affected sooner and recharge rates may reach peak sooner.
Precipitation in winter and spring is expected to increase by mid century; this could benefit snowpack at higher or lower elevations. At lower elevations near the project area habitat forage will dry up sooner if insufficient snowpack is not received.
Precipitation overall is expected to increase by mid-century. Heavy precipitation events can cause erosion and add sediment to wetlands and the lake, affecting water quality and habitat.
The freeze-free season is expected to increase in the Northern Great Plains by the middle of the century. This lengthens the growing season and reduces disease transmission.
Low-diversity systems, such as Soda Lake, are at greater risk due to climate change. Soda Lake is a closed system where the lake is losing water annually from evapotranspiration.
Species in fragmented landscapes will have less opportunity to migrate in response to climate change. Mule deer and antelope pass through the project area, and unavailability of wetland forage could potentially reduce stopover rates during migration.
Timing changes of peak runoff and extreme hydrological events can affect the wetlands system. Changes in inundation/flooding schedules on the wetlands complex are dependent on water storage available to operate and manage the wetlands system.
Varying snow water equivalents and inconsistent snowpack at lower elevations will shorten or make seasonal supply of water unreliable to fill the wetlands complex. The shortened moist soil season affects timing for plant community composition.
Rising summer temperatures and longer periods of days in excess of 95 degrees increase will lead to more evapotranspiration and a decrease in habitat value in riparian zones. Additionally, higher temperatures deplete snowpack in lower elevations.
Normally in the Soda Lake basin, snowpack melt is gradual enough to prevent extreme runoff damage. Due to soil composition and the high precipitation events predicted, increased erosion and sediment loading may occur in the wetlands and Soda Lake.

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project, including:

Challenges

Communication, cooperation and education is the biggest challenge for creating a wetlands management plan that allows for a changing climate.
Maintaining a quality habitat balance, as well as keeping the public from degrading the habitat. This will be compounded with dryer conditions and potential fire danger.
Higher temperatures makes it difficult to keep water temperatures at acceptable levels and may increase evapotranspiration in ponds with lower water levels.
Moist soil managed ponds will need to be monitored and water added to reach those successional habitat goals.
Extreme precipitation events could cause sediment deposition from runoff and soil erosion on dikes and dams.
Lower elevation snowpack average decreases and higher summer temperatures will affect both water infiltration and water storage in the wetlands.
Opportunities for adding water sources from nearby lakes are limited because of terrain, water quality, and availability due to drought conditions.
Maintaining vegetation on dike structures could be effected in ponds with low water and very dry conditions.
Drought conditions can limit diversity and complexity of some native vegetation.
Invasive grasses and weeds may infest areas that are struggling to recover.
Mowing, and burning may not be options due to wildfire danger.
The speed in which grasses and other wetlands vegetation reach maturity due to excessive heat may become an issue, and the ability to keep moist soil for invertebrate populations.
Increased recreation due to favorable conditions has increased the possibility of transporting invasive plants to the area.
Bull elk pass through wetland ponds during their transition to higher elevation. If CWD prions are detected in the wetlands ponds this would be a difficult challenge to mitigate for Cervids.

Opportunities

Climate change and drought in the area has convinced everyone involved that there is a need for actions to be taken.
Drought conditions have increased public interest, and this may create more opportunities for wildlife conservation in other areas.
Dry soil managed ponds will reach propagation of seed and maturity sooner with higher heat conditions and longer growing seasons.
Longer growing seasons will help with the revegetation of wetlands structures, help erosion damage recover annually, and reduce sediment deposition.
Infiltration of spring water supplies reduces evapotranspiration and could possibly retain water levels on the wetlands and lake for longer periods during the summer- fall seasons.
Some native species may adapt to longer growing seasons and additional spring and fall precipitation.
Longer growing season enables longer life cycles in the ponds that are maintained for forage.
The local weed and pest district is providing invasive species awareness signs and boot brush stations.
The longer growing season is a benefit to forage production for waterfowl traveling north.

Adaptation Actions

Project participants used the Adaptation Workbook to develop several adaptation actions for this project, including:

Area/Topic
Approach
Tactics
Wetlands
Implement habitat diversity and address climate change at the wetlands complex.
Create additional water sources by drilling a deep water well, pulling from a confined lower aquifer to feed the wetlands.
Transplant woody vegetation, willow, and aspen to provide shade cover and wind break.
Reduce temperature increases and evapotranspiration.
Apply conservation actions of hydrological control, plant community composition improvement and diversity.
Build enclosures for the springs that feed the wetlands complex to prevent disruption.
Improve stock water sites and channelize returns to Spring creek for stock water use on USFS lands.
Redesign and improve water control structures and water delivery systems.
Renovate existing embankments.
Install Agri-drain structures and piping for six wetlands ponds.
Waterfowl Habitat & Recreation
Reduce soil erosion and sediment deposition.
Complete hard surfacing and Geoweb matting for wetlands trails and placing off road travel barriers.
Create opportunities for educational and public use of wetlands nature trails.
Provide climate change information and adaptation strategies for curriculum.
Install 14 wetlands habitat educational stations with permanent signage along wetlands trail.
Coordinate with local summer conservation outreach and education programs.
Provide for waterfowl hunting at the wetlands complex.
Place signage to ensure habitat management cooperation and necessary closures for threatened or endangered species.
Depending on use, may construct permanent blinds.
Maintain new Agri-drain water control structures and provide dam and dike maintenance annually

Monitoring

Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Moist soil unit and water seasonal water storage. Design and renovation of wetlands ponds and water control structures completed. Must be able to provide and keep wet soil and inundated wetlands at desired levels throughout the season.
Manage for plant species and diversity and complexity and prioritize native vegetation, at least one pond in each stage of the wetland’s seasonal cycle. Dry unit with seed propagation and moist soil unit with a diversity of native plants.
Inspect wetlands infrastructure (water control structure, piping, dams and dikes), annually for needed maintenance and repairs. Maintenance log will be completed prior to the start of spring runoff in April.
Utilize received pump components and a 42 panel solar array to run the deep well that was drilled last year.
Completion of additional water source and delivery system for the wetlands complex. Drill well, develop well, install valves and piping, install power source.
Moderate water surface temperatures and reduce evapotranspiration. Add an additional water source, plant windbreaks/shade cover woody vegetation plots.
Measure water loss at water control structures, temperature readings at wetlands ponds at shaded and unshaded locations.

Next Steps

Staff at the Soda Lake WHMA have pursued implementing the adaptation ideas for this project. As of March 2023, they have received the pump components and a 42-panel solar array to run the deep well that was drilled in 2022. They expect to have the additional water source pumping 80-90 gallons per minute into the wetlands by late July. They also have installed an underground supply system to be able to pump water year round to increase the additional water to the system and upper aquifer that supplies the wetlands and Soda Lake. The system will not completely mitigate evaporation loss on the wetlands but provides enough water to offset evaporation to the entire wetland system. There was very high use of the wetlands complex by wintering elk herds, and some excessive browsing of aspen stands occurred. Soda Lake WHMA also received grant funding for more woody vegetation enclosure fencing as well as the funding to complete the additional water supply.

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Keywords

Wetlands
Wildlife habitat

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