Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust protects 1,800 acres
As part of an ongoing effort to safeguard wildlife habitat within the Green River Valley, a group of public agencies and nonprofit groups recently protected more than 1,800 acres on a working ranch through a conservation easement, a legal, voluntary agreement that calls for the landowner to permanently restrict the type and amount of development that occurs on his or her property.
Wyoming Game & Fish Department, an agency of the Jonah Interagency Mitigation and Reclamation Office (JIO), identified the Cottonwood Ranches as a priority for conservation because of its prime habitat for sage grouse, Shiras moose, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and numerous migratory birds. The entire property is classified as crucial winter range for one or more big game species.
The Conservation Fund worked with the owners of the Cottonwood Ranches--the Botur family--to complete the easement. Funding for the purchase came from JIO, the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust Fund, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through The Nature Conservancy. The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust will monitor and enforce the restrictions set forth in the easement.
"This is a new model--all of us working together towards a common goal--and we've now permanently protected just under 5,000 deeded acres and helped enhance over 35,000 acres of the most critical habitat in the Green River Valley over the past 12 months--a testament to the JIO and the other groups all pulling in the same direction," said Luke Lynch, Wyoming state director for The Conservation Fund.
"The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust appreciates the contributions of the Botur family in keeping important agricultural lands in production," said Mark Eisele, board president, Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust. "Maintaining open spaces and the long-time ranching heritage benefit the entire community."
Conservation easements are a valuable tool in conservation, with benefits beyond habitat protection. Landowners are eligible for various tax incentives for putting their land under an easement. Because the land remains privately owned, property taxes are still generated, securing the base of the local economy. The easement on the Cottonwood Ranches also ensures that the property will forever be used as a working ranch, preserving the legacy of ranching that the area is known for.
"It is these kinds of successes, with motivated people, to do great things in this landscape of our home, our Wyoming, that keeps me going," said Freddie Botur, owner of Cottonwood Ranches. "While achieving a great number of acres that will be protected from future development in prime habitat, we have also increased the ability for our ranch to be an agricultural success, a story that is also parallel to the success of all the incredible species that it supports."
"This is such a great opportunity for all of us, to address a myriad of things that will benefit all resources and, in particular, wildlife and livestock," said Dan Stroud of the Jonah Interagency Office. "Perhaps even more important, is the building of relationships that will hopefully perpetuate over time, with an emphasis on the sharing of information between all partners with the ultimate goal of enhancing both wildlife habitat and livestock needs. With the partners and players involved, we can all benefit from everyone's ideas, as well. It's just a win:win scenario for all involved."
"This JIO project exemplifies how livestock and wildlife values can be incorporated into stewardship practices that maintain both a viable ranch operation and sage-grouse habitats," said Lisa Reinhart of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. "We are always excited and proud to be a part of projects that preserve Wyoming's ranching heritage and demonstrate excellent stewardship of Wyoming's natural resources."
This deal is part of a broader effort to protect land in the Green River Valley. On Cottonwood Ranches, the partners had previously protected over 1,000 acres and are working with the Botur family to place more of the ranch under an easement. The first easement pioneered the use of funds from JIO, which was established to mitigate impacts of oil and gas development on the nearby Jonah Field. In Boulder, The Conservation Fund, JIO and Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust placed over 2,000 acres on MJ Ranch under an easement last fall.