In a project to help sage grouse and its sagebrush-steppe habitat, a group of Cody teenagers will be planting buffaloberry seedlings on public land east of town next month.

“I’m thrilled we’re doing this,” said Paige Martinez, member of the Youth Advisory Board for the Interpretive Education Division at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The planting project resulted from the board’s involvement in the Earth Optimism Teen Event planned for last spring. Coordinated by Smithsonian Affiliates, the event featured a day-long workshop focused on climate change, explained Draper Museum curator Nathan Doerr.

From presentations on conservation-based topics, the youth selected a project and applied for a micro-grant from the Smithsonian group. The Cody teens chose March 14 for the workshop.

“Then COVID hit,” Doerr said. The Smithsonian museums and Center closed.

Instead of the in-person workshop, Martinez said, the Youth Board organized virtual presentations by four experts on environmental issues in the Greater Yellowstone Area. They discussed the sagebrush steppe, ranchers and predation, renewable energy, and wolf-elk interactions.

The topic of the sagebrush steppe and its issues “swayed us the most in what path to take, to see what teen action would be most doable and effective,” Martinez said.

The threats to the steppe – fragmentation, grazing and energy development – also impressed her. The Youth Board initially wanted to plant sagebrush seeds, but the timing of August for sowing didn’t work with their schedules.

Instead, they proposed buffaloberry seedlings, which can be planted in the spring, and applied for a $500 micro-grant to implement the project, which will increase plant diversity and provide some habitat for sage grouse chicks, Martinez said. The teens had to make a 10-minute pitch before a Smithsonian panel and then respond for 5 minutes.

“They were asked some in-depth questions, and they answered them really well,” said Gretchen Henrich, Center education director.

The Youth Board was created to help the Center appeal to a teenaged audience, a “population that’s hardest to attract,” she noted. “They’ve organized all sorts of things at the Center,” such as an art contest, family movie night and teen room, all pre-COVID.

For their latest project, the Youth Board will use the grant money to buy seedlings and hog panels to protect them. They’ll plant in the Dry Creek watershed overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, whose staff will work with the teens. The planting will likely occur in April.

“We’re still figuring out the logistics,” said Martinez, a senior at Cody High School.

The purpose of the Earth Optimism event was to inspire the younger generation to take action, she said.

It resulted in the virtual presentations that provided opportunities for the teens to have conversations with scientists. The resulting buffaloberry project will raise awareness of the threats facing the sagebrush ecosystem.

“I’m glad to do something and have an impact and apply the concepts to do something in the real world,” Martinez said. “I hope in the future they can continue these projects.”

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