Habitat Leasing WIN
USDA and Wyoming formalize partnership to pilot habitat leasing
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the state of Wyoming will partner to conserve habitat for big game migrations on private land surrounding Yellowstone National Park. USDA committed to the innovative application of Farm Bill conservation title programs to develop habitat leases on private land. WLA and partners have been pushing for this solution for years!
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WHAT'S AT STAKE
Critical habitat for wildlife in the West is disappearing at an alarming rate
Well-managed private lands are the cornerstones of both human communities and functioning ecosystems. These lands provide numerous public benefits beyond production of food and fiber, including wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, healthy watersheds, clean air, open space and public health.
Yet private lands, including family farms, ranches and timberlands, are under immense pressure from both natural and man-made forces. Thin profit margins, volatile commodity markets, increasing regulation, wildlife needs and climate change impacts such as severe drought, flood events, wildfire and invasive species are driving these lands into development and converting them to other land uses. Once these lands are fragmented and developed, there is no getting back the ecosystem services they once provided. In the American West, these lands are disappearing at an alarming rate, as one football field worth of land is lost to development every two and a half minutes.
The responsibility and cost of caring for wildlife and ecosystems cannot be borne by landowners alone but must be shared by all parts of society and all levels of government.
A simple, proven model, applied at scale.
Long-term contracts (e.g. 10 - 30 years) that recognize and compensate landowners for the ecological benefits currently provided by open, well-stewarded lands can help keep these lands economically viable and intact.
Agricultural production compatible with the conservation objectives specified in lease terms would be allowed and encouraged to continue.
Habitat leases would be designed to secure existing habitat and ecological services currently provided on private lands that meet threshold requirements for ecological site condition.
In some cases, supplemental lease and cost-share payments could support landowners for adoption of new practices or additional investments to increase habitat, sequester carbon, provide specific green infrastructure, above and beyond baseline conditions.
Wyoming and USDA agree on innovative partnership to conserve wildlife
October 17, 2022
WLA Press Release
Washington, DC – This afternoon, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed a memorandum of understanding that ratifies a partnership between the state of Wyoming and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conserve big game migrations and other wildlife habitat.
The “Partnership to Support Big Game Working Lands Conservation in Wyoming” commits the USDA to a package of new opportunities for landowners in Wyoming. In addition to an increased commitment of $16 million in FY23 for restoration and preservation of agricultural lands, the agency will pilot an innovative “habitat leasing” initiative under the federal Grasslands CRP program.
Habitat leases are a tool, identified by Governor Gordon’s migration corridors task force, as a common-ground solution that makes it possible for working ranches to stay in business ranching while also providing the critical habitat elk and other wildlife require for survival. Private landowners who choose to enroll in the program agree to maintain quality habitat over a 10-15 year contract period in exchange for annual payments on a per acre basis. Livestock grazing is permitted to continue under a management plan compatible with wildlife.
Western landowners applaud USDA and Wyoming for launch of habitat lease partnership around Yellowstone
May 20, 2022
WLA Press Release
Cody, Wyoming – Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new partnership with the state of Wyoming to conserve habitat for big game migrations on private land surrounding Yellowstone National Park. The announcement came as part of the celebration of Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary.
Along with investments in agricultural land protection and restoration, The “Partnership to Support Big Game Working Lands Conservation in Wyoming” commits USDA to the innovative application of Farm Bill conservation title programs to develop habitat leases on private land. Habitat leases are a tool that provide needed economic certainty to farms and ranches (“working lands”), while allowing the flexibility to tailor terms to local situations.
“Landowners appreciate wildlife and are essential partners in providing much of the West’s most important habitat,” said Zach Bodhane, Western Landowners Alliance policy director. “However, sustaining wildlife can also come at significant economic cost. If we want to support landowners that choose to manage land in ways that benefit wildlife, we need creative solutions like habitat leasing to help offset those costs and keep these working lands intact.”
USDA rental payment and cost-share assistance program
Under this program, landowners and operators can protect grassland, including rangeland and pastureland and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. The program emphasizes support for grazing operations, plant and animal biodiversity and grassland and land containing shrubs and fobs under the greatest threat of conversion. Contract duration is between 14 and 15 years.
Chaffee Common Ground
County-level sales tax increase devoted to term conservation agreements with landowners
Chaffee County in Colorado approved a 0.25 percent sales tax increase to fund a number of conservation initiatives, including working lands stewardship. A portion of the sales tax proceeds have been awarded to keep working lands in production through conservation agreements with landowners and programs that support agricultural sustainability.