The Thunder Basin ecosystem covers more than 2 million acres in northeast Wyoming, just west of the Black Hills. Spanning an ecotone between sagebrush steppe and mixed-grass prairie ecoregions, Thunder Basin offers a unique perspective on how management, disturbance and other drivers affect the ecology and stability of these two ecosystems. Land in the Thunder Basin is managed by a vast array of federal, state, and private entities for multiple uses, including livestock production, mineral resource development, and wildlife conservation. We are working in Thunder Basin to better understand tradeoffs and synergies between production and conservation in this complex, heterogeneous landscape. This work is highly collaborative, and cooperators include: the Thunder Basin Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association, private land owners, US Forest Service, University of Wyoming, and energy companies.
Management of the Thunder Basin ecosystem is challenging due to multiple land ownership types and land uses, diverse natural and economic resources, complex geology, and the ecosystem's unique location on the sagebrush steppe / mixed-grass prairie ecotone. Currently, we have a poor understanding of how biophysical heterogeneity (e.g., soils, topography and weather) affects plant community composition and production potential in this complex landscape. Moreover, we do not understand how internal and external drivers (e.g. herbicide, herbivory and fire) interact with biophysical heterogeneity to alter plant communities and wildlife habitat across different parts of the landscape. Over the past two years, we have initiated three different projects that begin addressing these knowledge gaps in order to improve management of the ecosystem for multiple objectives.