This year, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) allocated an unprecedented $52.2 million in Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) funds.The 2011 funds brings the two-year FRPP total to $73 million—the vast majority will be used to help conserve sage-grouse habitat on private lands in Wyoming.
The effort will conserve an estimated 200,000 acres for this iconic Western bird by working with the state’s landowners to secure conservation easements that keep these lands in ranching—and sage-grouse habitat intact.
Paul Shelton, assistant state conservationist for operations with the NRCS in Wyoming, is front and-center in this program to help Wyoming landowners who want to take steps to prevent development on the lands they love.
“Part of my motivation is that I have a 10-year-old and 7-year-old.”
Can you describe the importance of Wyoming’s landowners in this effort to safeguard sage-grouse habitat?
Fragmentation is the number one threat to sage-grouse, so conserving Wyoming’s large working ranches is really what’s going to make the difference.
There’s a growing segment of our agricultural community saying, “This ranch was my grandparents’ life work, and I’m not interested in seeing it turn into trophy homes.”
They want to maintain their working ranches, and in the process are making a huge difference in helping the state avoid the economic loss we’ll see if the sage-grouse gets listed under the Endangered Species Act.
How does Wyoming’s land trust community fit into this effort?
Wyoming has the best land trust community in the nation. You name it, these people are incredibly engaged, and each and every one of them is bringing incredible projects to the table.
What role is the Conservancy’s science playing in locating the “hotspots” for sage-grouse protection in the state?
This is not about random acts of conservation.
Understanding where to focus dollars on sage-grouse conservation is critical. The Conservancy’s scientists are giving us an important tool to get the most out of our investments.
The science is fairly complex, but the analysis they’re generating is really amazing and will help quantify the benefits of existing conservation easements, and bring into focus the need for the NRCS, the land trust community, and most importantly, Wyoming ranchers, to continue to work cooperatively on these amazing projects.
What is your hope for the sage-grouse initiative’s legacy in Wyoming?
Part of my motivation is that I have a 10-year-old and 7-year-old. In 15 or 20 years, I hope to drive them around Wyoming, show them these working lands, and say, “Here’s what we were able to do.”
I also want young ranching families who participate to know they’ll still be working out here in 40 years.
Ultimately, let’s not look back and say, “We should have worked harder.”
You can help the Conservancy provide critical scientific tools that safeguard sage-grouse on Wyoming’s working landscapes.