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New conservation easement near Pinedale aims to protect sage grouse habitat

A creek runs through green hay meadow.
Jackson Hole Land Trust
A portion of the land that is now under a conservation easement.

There’s a new conservation easement on a ranch just west of Pinedale, and it’s in a critical area for mule deer migration and sage grouse.

The new easement is for 120 acres of ranch land owned by the local Hayward family.

“It's a voluntary agreement that a landowner goes into,” said Kerry Gold, who’s director of the Green River Valley program of the Jackson Hole Land Trust, which entered into the easement agreement with the Hayward family.

“They put certain restrictions on their lands in the interest of protecting ag lands, wildlife habitats, open spaces and scenic vistas.”

In this case, Gold said the land is not only in an agriculturally rich area, but also in crucial sage grouse habitat and mule deer migration. Both species have generally been declining for many years now, which has been partly linked to development and disturbances in habitat.

“So by putting protections on this land that are perpetual, we know for sure that those wildlife values are always going to be intact and functioning and available for native wildlife species,” Gold said.

Some of these protections can include wildlife friendly fencing or even mowing hay fields in a certain way.

“You start at the middle and work your way out, versus starting on the outside and working your way in and trapping a sage grouse that's being chased by a mower,” Gold said.

But other protections include guaranteeing no future subdivisions.

“So the risk really is if someone were to come along and decide to put in very dense housing development, that introduces habitat loss and fragmentation, which is really detrimental to wildlife,” Gold said. “And you also risk losing a piece of our local ag economy, a piece of our local ag heritage, if it is ranch land that someone decides they want to convert to development or subdivision.”

About one percent of land in Wyoming is under a conservation easement and nationwide about 1.5 percent of land. To read more about conservation easement efforts in the state click here.

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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