Staff Q&A with Graham McGaffin

The Nature Conservancy’s newest team member in Wyoming, Graham McGaffin, serves as the external relations manager and works closely with landowners, public agencies, legislators and other conservation groups to take collaborative conservation action around the state.

The University of Wyoming graduate talked to about the intersections between economics, conservation, and agriculture, and why he’s so passionate about conservation in Wyoming.
“I feel fortunate to have a job where I can walk around on the land with the people who steward it.”

What brought you to Wyoming?

Graham McGaffin:

I grew up in northwest Iowa but came out West at an early age with my parents for camping trips. I quickly fell in love with Wyoming and decided to attend the University of Wyoming for both undergraduate and graduate school.

I love the whole state. Can’t get enough of it!

How did your studies at the University of Wyoming lead to a career in conservation?

Graham McGaffin:

My master’s program was in agricultural economics with an interest in environment and natural resources, which gave me an opportunity to better understand the interrelationships between agriculture and conservation in Wyoming. My master’s thesis expanded on this understanding by allowing me to partner in research that analyzed survey responses on landowner preferences for conservation easements.

Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy, I worked for the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust, where I had the opportunity to work on the ground with landowners interested in using conservation easements to keep working lands in agriculture.

I also led a study on rangeland succession while with the Stock Growers Land Trust, that identified how conservation organizations could facilitate the transition of working agricultural lands.

How do you describe conservation easements to someone who’s not familiar with them?

Graham McGaffin:

Conservation easements are a tool that can be used for conservation as well as estate planning. They mean different things to different people.

It’s exciting to see that people in Wyoming are paying more and more attention to conservation, and I’m fortunate that a part of my job is let individuals know a few of the options that are available, including conservation easements. Conservation easements have the potential to be a really great coming together of agriculture and conservation—not just one or the other.

However, when discussing conservation alternatives, it’s important to recognize that easements aren’t necessarily the best tool for each unique operation. I’m excited by the opportunity to join an organization that helps to implement and facilitate policies and practices that enhance conservation when easements aren’t the best fit.

One way or another, I enjoy reaching out to people and explaining something I believe in.

A lot of your research has focused on finding ways for younger generations to get into ranching. Why is this important?

Graham McGaffin:

The number of Wyoming ranchers aged over 65 has more than doubled over the last twenty years while the number of Wyoming ranchers under 35 years of age has decreased by two-thirds, however, there are a lot of younger individuals who want to get into agriculture. Unfortunately, these individuals identify and encounter a significant number of hurdles to become a landowner.

Wildlife habitat and open space conservation in Wyoming is directly linked to agriculture. From a habitat conservation perspective, it’s important to support agricultural operators because these individuals steward Wyoming’s landscapes. From an economic and cultural perspective, it’s important to support agriculture because operators support local economies and sustain a culture that helps define our state.

I look forward to working to facilitate the transition of agricultural lands to future generations, either through conservation easements or by working to support Farm Bill programs that provide assistance to young producers.

What have you learned about ranching in your academic and professional work?

Graham McGaffin:

It’s been really exciting to get to know ranchers around the state. What I’ve particularly appreciated is their creativity—they see a challenge and have to think of a creative solution. Ranchers are inspiring in that way.

I feel fortunate to have a job where I can walk around on the land with the people who steward it. I’ve seen some amazing places and heard really cool stories that are driven by an operator’s intimate ties to the land.

Ranchers in the state are doing some of the best conservation work, often done because taking care of the land is the best way to take care of an operation’s profitability.

It’s fun and encouraging to see that conservation and agriculture are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. Many Wyoming landowners are showing us how we can have both.

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