Twenty-some miles as the crow flies northwest of Wyoming’s Jonah Natural Gas Field, a team of biologists are criss-crossing the Cottonwood Ranch on horseback counting birds.
The sage grouse fluttering up from the sagebrush symbolize a blueprint for conservation that began on a Conservancy scientist’s computer.
Using a complex modeling program, staff scientists Joe Kiesecker, Holly Copeland and Amy Pocewicz completed a study that pin-points on a map the best locations to conduct conservation projects to mitigate wildlife habitat lost on the 60,000-acre Jonah Field.
The Cottonwood Ranch was “in the zone,” a place where healthy wildlife habitat remained, close to Jonah but not suitable for future drilling.
When the Conservancy’s mapping flagged the spot, the Jonah Interagency Mitigation and Reclamation Office, which manages a $24.5 million mitigation fund financed by Jonah operators, took notice.
The agency funded a 1,042-acre easement with The Conservation Fund on the Cottonwood Ranch, limiting future residential development, one of the biggest threats to Western wildlife.
The Conservancy has been using this approach—compiling inventories of key species and habitats and setting priorities for high-value lands—for years. But this is the first time ever Conservation by Design has been adapted to offset energy development.
Several other projects in the Intermountain West are already under way using the Jonah Field model but incorporated earlier in the development process. This way, certain areas can be avoided altogether.
Conservancy scientists have also taken the approach global and are working with the government of Colombia on a pilot project to offset a coal mine.
The Conservancy is working with partners to harness 21st century conservation science and planning tools that have more effective conservation outcomes.
The Conservancy’s approach provides a tool for industry and land managers who are looking to mitigate the damages infrastructure projects have on lands and waters—potentially driving hundreds of millions of dollars to higher value, more cost-effective conservation efforts.March 13, 2013