A Sheridan County conservation organization aims to help farmers and ranchers preserve lands for future generations
The Sheridan Community Land Trust (SCLT) is offering farmers and ranchers in Sheridan County the opportunity to enter into voluntary conservation agreements, or easements, that aim to preserve ag lands for future generations.
SCLT Executive Director Brad Bauer said that protecting land used for agriculture is beneficial to Sheridan County.
“These voluntary conservation agreements are really exciting for our community because of that nature of keeping open space, keeping that working land—things that we love and cherish about Sheridan County and Wyoming as a whole,” he said.
Mike Mitzel owns 2M Farms, a 420-acre ranch near Leiter in eastern Sheridan County. After beginning discussions with SCLT about five years ago, Mitzel decided that entering into a voluntary conservation agreement would ensure that future generations will still be able to use the land for agriculture, something his family has done on the ranch for three generations.
According to Mitzel, about 250 acres of the ranch are irrigated, with the rest being a mix of sagebrush and grassland, and they primarily raise Black Angus cattle.
“The conservation easement is something I looked into for quite a while and flexibility in the conservation easements [is possible] as far as tailoring to what somebody wants to see,” he said. “But future development is certainly at the heart of the conservation easement.”
Mitzel said the agreement limits what can be done with the property outside of agriculture.
“It really limits any subdividing or future development,” he said. “You are able to do certain things and set aside certain pieces.”
Additional benefits include financial incentives such as tax breaks and preserving wildlife habitat and waterways. These agreements are signed in perpetuity, even if the property the agreement is signed for is sold.
Bauer said that 2M Farms has a lot that can be conserved by the agreement.
“We are particularly interested and particularly excited about working with Mike Mitzel on a voluntary conservation agreement,” he said. “It [2M Farms] has over two miles of Clear Creek flowing through it, which is a really important fishery. There’s amazing wildlife habitat for sage grouse and for mule deer and other species, but maybe most importantly is just the prime productivity of the agricultural lands of the property.”
Mitzel said that some of his neighbors have asked about the agreement and what it could offer them.
“I’ve definitely been asked about it by people in the region,” he said. “There’s some interest for sure in people pursuing conservation easements. Being that it will affect future generations, [it’s] certainly something to take some time to figure out if it’s the right fit for somebody.”
In addition to ag land conservation, SCLT is also active in conservation efforts in other ways, such as in land management and stewardship. One of these is an initiative for landowners to implement wildlife-friendly fencing.
“Part of the value of those voluntary agreements is also because by not developing it for residential use, that preserves some wildlife habitat,” said SCLT program manager Meghan Kent. “So that’s where the voluntary conservation agreement and the wildlife-friendly fencing kind of come together— you’re protecting that habitat and then you’re also easing wildlife movement across it.”
Kent said this kind of fencing retrofits existing fences.
“Reducing the height of the fence on the top strand and taking those barbs off and replacing it with a smooth wire—that’s one thing that really can make it easier for those animals to move across the landscape,” she said. “Similarly, on that bottom piece of the fence, making it a little bit higher from the ground that pronghorn can pass and also making it smooth, so it doesn’t rip them up, that’s kind of the premise of wildlife-friendly fencing.”
According to Bauer, there are 10 families that SCLT has worked with to develop conservation agreements to conserve over 3,900 acres in Sheridan County. Three more are considering an agreement.