Western landowners applaud USDA and Wyoming for launch of habitat lease partnership around Yellowstone

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.”

Well-managed working landscapes play a critical role in holding together the communities and the ecosystems we all depend on, and they are disappearing under mounting economic and natural pressures. Western Landowners Alliance has consistently advocated for better support and recognition of private lands that provide for public wildlife. The price and terms of habitat leases send clear and important messages about the value of conservation. 

“People respond to market signals. Right now if you are a landowner in Wyoming the two market signals you get are pushing you toward wind and residential development,” said Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust Fund. “If we want conservation, there has got to be a market signal for conservation.”

By recognizing that many conservation outcomes can be achieved as a result of voluntary conservation on private land, the USDA is leading the way in promoting a new model of conservation. This new partnership in Wyoming recognizes that the future of conservation must focus on working lands, and provides economic support for the public benefits that these lands provide. 

“If the goal is to preserve the wildlife, migration corridors and biodiversity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, then you must preserve the working landscapes of this region,” said Pinedale, Wyoming, rancher Albert Sommers. “Ranches are the glue that conserves these working landscapes, and multi-generational agriculture is the mechanism to maintain these ranches.”

The Western Landowners Alliance commends USDA for their commitment to listen to landowner needs and work with local communities and state leadership for the betterment of our ecosystems and rural economies. This new partnership is a critical step in the right direction. Importantly, it recognizes that when it comes to achieving conservation outcomes on working lands, economic conditions matter. With this partnership the USDA and the state of Wyoming are taking a critical step forward toward better supporting land stewards for the public benefits they provide.

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