Critical Winter Habitat Conserved in the Absaroka Foothills
LU Ranch Project Part of Major Landowner Effort in Northwest Wyoming
MEETEETSE, WY | July 22, 2009
The Nature Conservancy has safeguarded 2,781 acres of wildlife habitat and productive ranchland south of Meeteetse. This achievement conserves a critical portion of the 29,000-acre LU Ranch that spans the drainages of Grass and Gooseberry creeks. The transaction complements work being done by the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust with at least four other Gooseberry Creek landowners.
Northwest Wyoming is home to one of the most iconic landscapes on earth. Adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, the area supports much of the state’s agriculture and recreation industries, as well as a diverse wildlife population. Many species and habitats found on the LU Ranch have been deemed high priority by Wyoming’s statewide wildlife action plan, the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.
“The private lands that flank Yellowstone serve as an essential natural buffer and wintering ground for a wide variety of wildlife,” said Andrea Erickson-Quiroz, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming. “The breaking apart of this landscape is a challenge many local landowners, community organizations and funders are working to confront.”
The LU Ranch, formerly know as the LU Sheep Company, is a working cattle ranch of 29,000 deeded acres. In the Absaroka foothills, south of Meeteetse, the ranch falls within an area that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department considers crucial winter range for elk and mule deer and also provides a watering source and important brood-rearing habitat for sage grouse and other declining sagebrush obligate species.
“Our private land has been the weak link in this critical ecological system because of the way it could have lent itself to subdivision” stated Mike Healy, head of the LU Ranch. “We have corrected that and look forward to the land continuing its dual role as a cattle ranch and provider of wildlife habitat.”
By partnering with The Green River Valley Land Trust, and funders such as Wyoming Wildlife & Natural Resource Trust, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and other private donors, the Conservancy has been able to make significant conservation gains in an area that is threatened on all sides by development pressures.
The property is being safeguarded from this residential growth using a conservation easement. These voluntary land agreements serve as an excellent way to protect the integrity of wildlife migratory corridors and winter ranges, while supporting the operations of Wyoming’s working ranches.
“The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Wyoming is very excited to have been a part of the acquisition of the conservation easement on the LU Ranch” said Xavier Montoya, NRCS State Conservationist. “NRCS’ partnership with The Nature Conservancy is extremely important, and we look forward to continuing to use our Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program to provide matching funds and partner with the Conservancy and other organizations to assist in the acquisition of conservation easements to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses.
” The Conservancy will continue to work with private landowners in the region to protect land using conservation easements. The group is also working with landowners and agency partners to conduct on-the-ground stewardship projects. Conservancy staff currently coordinate a Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality-funded project on the LU Ranch aimed at improving water quality and training adjacent landowners in range monitoring techniques.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.