Thunder Basin National Grassland

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Thunder Basin National Grassland
Thunder Basin National Grassland Douglas.jpg
Thunder Basin National Grassland
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Location Wyoming, United States
Nearest city Gillette, WY
Coordinates 43°41′N105°01′W / 43.68°N 105.02°W / 43.68; -105.02 [1] Coordinates: 43°41′N105°01′W / 43.68°N 105.02°W / 43.68; -105.02 [2]
Area547,499 acres (2,215.65 km2) [3]
EstablishedJune 23, 1960
Governing body U.S. Forest Service
Website Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests & Thunder Basin National Grassland

The Thunder Basin National Grassland is located in northeastern Wyoming in the Powder River Basin between the Big Horn Mountains and the Black Hills. The Grassland ranges in elevation from 3,600 feet (1,100 m) to 5,200 feet (1,600 m), and the climate is semi-arid. The Grassland provides opportunities for recreation, including hiking, sightseeing, hunting, and fishing. There are no developed campgrounds; however, camping is allowed. Land patterns are very complex because of the intermingled federal, state, and private lands. [4]

Wyoming U.S. state in the United States

Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The state is the 10th largest by area, the least populous, and the second most sparsely populated state in the country. Wyoming is bordered on the north by Montana, on the east by South Dakota and Nebraska, on the south by Colorado, on the southwest by Utah, and on the west by Idaho and Montana. The state population was estimated at 577,737 in 2018, which is less than 31 of the most populous U.S. cities including Denver in neighboring Colorado. Cheyenne is the state capital and the most populous city, with an estimated population of 63,624 in 2017.

Powder River Basin

The Powder River Basin is a geologic structural basin in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, about 120 miles (190 km) east to west and 200 miles (320 km) north to south, known for its coal deposits. The region supplies about 40 percent of coal in the United States. It is both a topographic drainage and geologic structural basin. The basin is so named because it is drained by the Powder River, although it is also drained in part by the Cheyenne River, Tongue River, Bighorn River, Little Missouri River, Platte River, and their tributaries.

Black Hills mountain range in South Dakota and Wyoming

The Black Hills are a small and isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming, United States. Black Elk Peak, which rises to 7,244 feet (2,208 m), is the range's highest summit. The Black Hills encompass the Black Hills National Forest. The name "Black Hills" is a translation of the Lakota Pahá Sápa. The hills were so-called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they were covered in trees.


In descending order of land area, it is located in parts of Weston, Converse, Campbell, Niobrara, and Crook counties. It is managed together with Medicine Bow - Routt National Forest from Forest Service offices in Laramie, Wyoming; its local ranger district office is in Douglas. [4]

Weston County, Wyoming U.S. county in Wyoming

Weston County is a county in the U.S. state of Wyoming. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 7,208. Its county seat is Newcastle. Its east boundary line abuts the west line of the state of South Dakota.

Converse County, Wyoming U.S. county in Wyoming

Converse County is a county located in the U.S. state of Wyoming. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 13,833. Its county seat is Douglas.

Campbell County, Wyoming U.S. county in Wyoming

Campbell County is a county in the U.S. state of Wyoming. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 46,133, making it the third-most populous county in Wyoming. Its county seat is Gillette.

Ecology of Thunder Basin

Thunder Basin National National Grassland is found along the ecotone, or transition zone, between the Great Plains to the east and the sagebrush steppe to the west, and occurs across a gradient of temperature, precipitation, and elevation. [5] [6] As with grasslands in the Great Plains, the Thunder Basin evolved with disturbance from drought, grazing, fire and burrowing mammals. [7] Burrowing mammals play a functional role in the grasslands here, as they do around the world. [8] For example, prairie dogs increase habitat heterogeneity and biodiversity at multiple scales across the landscape by creating burrows and areas of open grassland habitat that differ from the surrounding areas and serve as habitat for other species. [8]

Ecotone transition area between two biomes

An ecotone is a transition area between two biomes. It is where two communities meet and integrate. It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local or regional. An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line.

Thunder Basin grassland is home to over 100 species of birds; large herbivores such as pronghorn and mule deer; small mammals like black-tailed prairie dogs, white-tailed jackrabbits, cotton tails, kangaroo rats, thirteen lined-ground squirrels, and bats; and predators such as swift fox, badgers, coyote and red fox. [5] Domestic livestock grazing (sheep and cattle) is practiced by ranching families throughout the grassland. The area includes both sagebrush and grassland plant communities, [9] which interact with a range of ecological disturbances to support diverse wildlife species. Researchers surveyed birds on active black-tailed prairie dog colonies and previously burned areas, as well as on paired undisturbed sites, and found that only prairie dog colonies supported breeding habitat for the imperiled mountain plover (Charadrius montanus). On the other hand, large, contiguous areas of sagebrush cover are required to support sage-grouse conservation. [10] Management for biodiversity in this complex ecosystem depends on managing for a shifting mosaic of different disturbances to meet the needs of multiple species.

Ranch Area of land used for raising grazing livestock

A ranch is an area of land, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat or wool. The word most often applies to livestock-raising operations in Mexico, the Western United States and Western Canada, though there are ranches in other areas. People who own or operate a ranch are called ranchers, cattlemen, or stockgrowers. Ranching is also a method used to raise less common livestock such as elk, American bison or even ostrich, emu, and alpaca.


Sagebrush is the common name of several woody and herbaceus species of plants in the genus Artemisia. The best known sagebrush is the shrub Artemisia tridentata. Sagebrushes are native to the North American west.

Grassland areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae)

Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae); however, sedge (Cyperaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) families can also be found along with variable proportions of legumes, like clover, and other herbs. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica. Grasslands are found in most ecoregions of the Earth. For example, there are five terrestrial ecoregion classifications (subdivisions) of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome (ecosystem), which is one of eight terrestrial ecozones.

In Thunder Basin, historical wildfires do not promote the invasion of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) [11] as they do in the Great Basin, where a fire-invasion feedback loop leads to plant community conversion in sagebrush ecosystems.

<i>Bromus tectorum</i> species of plant

Bromus tectorum, known as drooping brome or cheatgrass, is a winter annual grass native to Europe, southwestern Asia, and northern Africa, but has become invasive in many other areas. It now is present in most of Europe, southern Russia, Japan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, North America and Asia. In the eastern US B. tectorum is common along roadsides and as a crop weed, but usually does not dominate an ecosystem. It has become a dominant species in the Intermountain West and parts of Canada, and displays especially invasive behavior in the sagebrush steppe ecosystems where it has been listed as a noxious weed. B. tectorum often enters the site in an area that has been disturbed, and then quickly expands into the surrounding area through its rapid growth and prolific seed production.

Great Basin large depression in western North America

The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America. It spans nearly all of Nevada, much of Oregon and Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, and Wyoming. It is noted for both its arid climate and the basin and range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than 100 miles (160 km) away at the summit of Mount Whitney. The region spans several physiographic divisions, biomes, ecoregions, and deserts.

Related Research Articles

Black-footed ferret species of mustelid

The black-footed ferret, also known as the American polecat or prairie dog hunter, is a species of mustelid native to central North America. It is listed as endangered by the IUCN, because of its very small and restricted populations. First discovered by Audubon and Bachman in 1851, the species declined throughout the 20th century, primarily as a result of decreases in prairie dog populations and sylvatic plague. It was declared extinct in 1979 until Lucille Hogg's dog brought a dead black-footed ferret to her door in Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981. That remnant population of a few dozen ferrets lasted there until the animals were considered extinct in the wild in 1987. However, a captive-breeding program launched by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in its reintroduction into eight western US states, Canada, and Mexico from 1991 to 2009. Now, over 1,000 mature, wild-born individuals are in the wild across 18 populations, with five self-sustaining populations in South Dakota (two), Arizona, and Wyoming. It was first listed as "endangered" in 1982, then listed as "extinct in the wild" in 1996 before being downgraded back to "endangered" in 2008.

Great Basin Desert desert in the United States

The Great Basin Desert is part of the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Range. The desert is a geographical region that largely overlaps the Great Basin shrub steppe defined by the World Wildlife Fund, and the Central Basin and Range ecoregion defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and United States Geological Survey. It is a temperate desert with hot, dry summers and snowy winters. The desert spans a large part of the state of Nevada, and extends into western Utah, eastern California, and Idaho. The desert is one of the four biologically defined deserts in North America, in addition to the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts.

<i>Artemisia tridentata</i> species of plant

Artemisia tridentata, commonly called big sagebrush, Great Basin sagebrush or (locally) simply sagebrush, is an aromatic shrub from the family Asteraceae, which grows in arid and semi-arid conditions, throughout a range of cold desert, steppe, and mountain habitats in the Intermountain West of North America. The vernacular name "sagebrush" is also used for several related members of the genus Artemisia, such as California sagebrush.

American badger species of mammal

The American badger is a North American badger, somewhat similar in appearance to the European badger, although not closely related. It is found in the western and central United States, northern Mexico, and south-central Canada to certain areas of southwestern British Columbia.

Fire ecology scientific discipline concerned with natural processes involving fire in an ecosystem and the ecological effects

Fire ecology is a scientific discipline concerned with natural processes involving fire in an ecosystem and the ecological effects, the interactions between fire and the abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem, and the role as an ecosystem process. Many ecosystems, particularly prairie, savanna, chaparral and coniferous forests, have evolved with fire as an essential contributor to habitat vitality and renewal. Many plant species in fire-affected environments require fire to germinate, establish, or to reproduce. Wildfire suppression not only eliminates these species, but also the animals that depend upon them.

Sagebrush steppe

Sagebrush steppe is a type of shrub-steppe, a plant community characterized by the presence of shrubs, and usually dominated by sagebrush, any of several species in the genus Artemisia. This ecosystem is found in the Intermountain West in the United States.

Medicine Bow–Routt National Forest U.S. Forest Service managed area

Medicine Bow–Routt National Forest is the official title to a U.S. Forest Service managed area extending over 2,222,313 acres (8,993.38 km2) in the states of Wyoming and Colorado, United States. What were once three separate areas, Medicine Bow National Forest, Routt National Forest, and Thunder Basin National Grassland were administratively combined in 1995 due to similarity of the resources, proximity to each other and for administrative purposes.

Black-tailed prairie dog species of mammal

The black-tailed prairie dog is a rodent of the family Sciuridae found in the Great Plains of North America from about the United States-Canada border to the United States-Mexico border. Unlike some other prairie dogs, these animals do not truly hibernate. The black-tailed prairie dog can be seen above ground in midwinter. A black-tailed prairie dog town in Texas was reported to cover 25,000 sq mi (64,000 km2) and included 400,000,000 individuals. Prior to habitat destruction, this species may have been the most abundant prairie dog in central North America. This species was one of two described by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the journals and diaries of their expedition.


Shrub-steppe is a type of low rainfall natural grassland. While arid, shrub-steppes have sufficient moisture to support a cover of perennial grasses and/or shrubs, a feature which distinguishes them from deserts.

Ords kangaroo rat species of mammal

Ord's kangaroo rat is a kangaroo rat native to western North America, specifically the Great Plains and the Great Basin, with its range extending from extreme southern Canada to central Mexico.

Red Desert (Wyoming)

The Red Desert is a high altitude desert and sagebrush steppe located in south central Wyoming, comprising approximately 9,320 square miles. Among the natural features in the Red Desert region are the Great Divide Basin, a unique endorheic drainage basin formed by a division in the Continental Divide, and the Killpecker Sand Dunes, the largest living dune system in the United States. In the 19th century, the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails crossed the Continental Divide at South Pass, just north of the Red Desert. Today, busy Interstate 80 bisects the desert's southern region while gas field roads cross the desert.

Great Basin pocket mouse species of mammal

The Great Basin pocket mouse is a species of rodent in the family Heteromyidae. It is found in British Columbia in Canada and the western United States.

Townsends ground squirrel species of mammal

Townsend's ground squirrel is a species of rodent in the family Sciuridae. It is found in high desert shrublands in several areas of the United States.

Columbia Plateau (ecoregion) Level III ecoregion in the United States

The Columbia Plateau ecoregion is a Level III ecoregion designated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encompassing approximately 32,100 square miles (83,139 km2) of land within the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The ecoregion extends across a wide swath of the Columbia River Basin from The Dalles, Oregon to Lewiston, Idaho to Okanogan, Washington near the Canada–US border. It includes nearly 500 miles (800 km) of the Columbia River, as well as the lower reaches of major tributaries such as the Snake and Yakima rivers and the associated drainage basins. It is named for the Columbia River Plateau, a flood basalt plateau formed by the Columbia River Basalt Group during the late Miocene and early Pliocene. The arid sagebrush steppe and grasslands of the region are flanked by moister, predominantly forested, mountainous ecoregions on all sides. The underlying basalt is up to 2 miles (3 km) thick and partially covered by thick loess deposits. Where precipitation amounts are sufficient, the deep loess soils have been extensively cultivated for wheat. Water from the Columbia River is subject to resource allocation debates involving fisheries, navigation, hydropower, recreation, and irrigation, and the Columbia Basin Project has dramatically converted much of the region to agricultural use.

Snake River Plain (ecoregion) ecoregion in the United States

The Snake River Plain ecoregion is a Level III ecoregion designated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. states of Idaho and Oregon. It follows the Snake River across Idaho, stretching roughly 400 miles (640 km) from the Wyoming border to Eastern Oregon in the xeric intermontane west. Characterized by plains and low hills, it is considerably lower and less rugged than surrounding ecoregions. Many of the alluvial valleys bordering the Snake River are used for agriculture. Where irrigation water and soil depth are sufficient, sugar beets, potatoes, alfalfa, small grains, and vegetables are grown. Elsewhere, livestock grazing is widespread. Cattle feedlots and dairy operations are found locally.

Northern Basin and Range ecoregion

The Northern Basin and Range ecoregion is a Level III ecoregion designated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. states of Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and California. It contains dissected lava plains, rolling hills, alluvial fans, valleys, and scattered mountain ranges in the northern part of the Great Basin. Although arid, the ecoregion is higher and cooler than the Snake River Plain to the north and has more available moisture and a cooler climate than the Central Basin and Range to the south. Its southern boundary is determined by the highest shoreline of Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, which once inundated the Central Basin and Range. The western part of the region is internally drained; its eastern stream network drains to the Snake River system.

Flat Tops (Colorado)

Flat Tops is a mountain range located in Colorado within the Routt and White River National Forests. The area is home to one hundred and ten ponds and lakes.

Wyoming Basin shrub steppe

The Wyoming Basin shrub steppe ecoregion, within the deserts and xeric shrublands biome, is a shrub steppe in the northwestern United States.

Wyoming is home to 12 amphibian species and 22 species of reptiles.


  1. "Thunder Basin National Grassland". Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey . Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  2. "Thunder Basin National Grassland". Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey . Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  3. "Land Areas of the National Forest System". U.S. Forest Service. January 2013. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  4. 1 2 "Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest & Thunder Basin National Grassland". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  5. 1 2 Duchardt, Courtney; Scasta, John Derek (January 2017). "Welcome to Thunder Basin: University of Wyoming Thunder Basin Fact Sheet #1" . Retrieved January 7, 2019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. Porensky, Lauren M.; Blumenthal, Dana M. (2016-07-15). "Historical wildfires do not promote cheatgrass invasion in a western Great Plains steppe". Biological Invasions. 18 (11): 3333–3349. doi:10.1007/s10530-016-1225-z. ISSN   1387-3547.
  7. Samson, Fred; Knopf, Fritz (1994). "Prairie Conservation in North America". BioScience. 44 (6): 418–421. doi:10.2307/1312365. ISSN   0006-3568. JSTOR   1312365.
  8. 1 2 Davidson, Ana D; Detling, James K; Brown, James H (2012). "Ecological roles and conservation challenges of social, burrowing, herbivorous mammals in the world's grasslands". Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 10 (9): 477–486. doi:10.1890/110054. ISSN   1540-9295.
  9. L. Connell L. Porensky S. Greenler S. Newton, D. Pellatz, K. Estep, and J.D. Scasta (March 22, 2018). "Common Herbaceous Plants of the Thunder Basin Grasslands - Thunder Basin Ecology Factsheet #3" (PDF). Retrieved January 7, 2019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. Holloran, Matthew J.; Anderson, Stanley H. (2005). "SPATIAL DISTRIBUTION OF GREATER SAGE-GROUSE NESTS IN RELATIVELY CONTIGUOUS SAGEBRUSH HABITATS". The Condor. 107 (4): 742. doi:10.1650/7749.1. ISSN   0010-5422.
  11. Porensky, Lauren M.; Blumenthal, Dana M. (2016-07-15). "Historical wildfires do not promote cheatgrass invasion in a western Great Plains steppe". Biological Invasions. 18 (11): 3333–3349. doi:10.1007/s10530-016-1225-z. ISSN   1387-3547.