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USDA partners with Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem landowners to conserve wildlife habitat 

Joe Riis
Wyoming Migration Initiative

Wyoming landowners in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have long allowed wildlife to migrate through their private lands, and now, a new partnership will financially compensate them.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the pilot program Friday. The agency is partnering with the state of Wyoming to commit an initial $15 million to landowners willing to conserve their land for big game migration.

It is part of a broad concept called “habitat leasing,” which means the land is essentially “rented out” by the government for wildlife and ranching operations. The land cannot be subdivided into residential units or developed for things like solar infrastructure.

Leslie Allison, the executive director of Western Landowners Alliance, said ranchers are being compensated for what they have already been doing.

“They can't do that endlessly for free. And it's part of the reason we're losing these lands to development is because they're not able to compete economically with other land uses,” she said.” And that's because the value they're providing to public wildlife has never really been recognized.”

Bob Budd, the director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Program, said conserving land outside Yellowstone National Park is crucial, because big game migrate to and from the area.

“It isn't all about the park. It is about all of the lands that are connected to the park – it's all of those different habitats,” Budd said. “So, this gives an avenue to people to say, ‘Hey, my private lands may be the most important part of that species lifespan.’”

Landowners in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem can apply for funding now through the end of the year.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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