The Nature Conservancy and The Jackson Hole Land Trust announced one of the most significant land protection projects in the organizations’ histories. An innovative partnership between the two conservation organizations and landowners Bob and Kate Lucas enabled the transfer of The Nature Conservancy’s “Ramshorn Ranch” on Horse Creek Road to the Lucases as well as the permanent protection of 340 acres of their Jackson ranch along the Snake River in South Park.
Comprised of the old Winchester Ranch cow camp, two parcels of the former Parker Ranch and a smaller property, the Ramshorn Ranch encompasses 6,000 deeded acres bordering the Shoshone National Forest and the grazing rights to an additional 66,000 acres of federal and state lands. The deeded acres are protected by a conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy. Bob and Kate plan to move most of their cattle operation to the Dubois property, where they will continue the Lucas family’s 4th generation ranching operation begun over 100 years ago.
The Ramshorn Ranch embraces the migration route of the Dunoir elk herd, the largest naturally-wintering elk herd in the Lower 48 states. The ranch also provides critical winter range for most of the game species in Wyoming—and many non-game species as well, such as wolverine and lynx. The conservation easement held by the Conservancy prevents sub-division of the property and limits future construction to three building envelopes in locations that will not detract from the property’s extensive wildlife habitat.
Andrea Erickson, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming, lauded the Lucas family’s contribution to conservation and said, “We are so very pleased that the Ramshorn Ranch will continue to be a working family ranch. Bob Lucas has proven himself to be an excellent steward of the land and we can’t imagine anyone better to take over this important property.”
The Lucas Ranch is one of the last remaining working ranches in Jackson and contains some of the most significant wildlife habitat still to be found there. Nearly two miles of the Snake River and Spring Creek run through the property and its extensive riparian land, cottonwood forest and open meadows provide a unique haven for many species. It is critical habitat for elk, mule deer, trumpeter swans and bald eagles, and moose, osprey, blue herons, hawks, owls and river otters frequent the property as well. When asked about his decision to protect his Jackson ranch, Bob Lucas said, “I’ve been blessed by living in Jackson and am determined to do what I can to keep this property as open, rural land.”
Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Land Trust, Laurie Andrews, added “The Lucas Family has been incredible to work with. Although the project was complicated in nature, Bob and Kate simply wanted what was best for their land and for the valley. They truly love and respect their ranch. This way, they can continue ranching and protect their beautiful property from development at the same time.”
“Bob and Kate are to be applauded,” said Andrea Erickson, “The land values in Jackson are astronomical. It is a tremendous contribution to the Jackson community that they have elected to conserve this property and not sell out to the highest bidder—which would have been a developer. Conservation simply cannot compete with development without the support of willing landowners.”
Erickson went on to say that the Ramshorn Ranch was sold as part of The Nature Conservancy’s “Conservation Buyer” Program which matches properties rich in biodiversity—wildlife and wildlife habitat—with landowners willing to agree to uses consistent with keeping that diversity intact. This usually means very restricted development rights, setbacks from riparian areas and the specific placement of any buildings and other construction in sites that will not interfere with crucial range, migration corridors or breeding grounds.
Placing a conservation easement on a property affects the value of the property in perpetuity. For that reason, a professional real estate appraiser is engaged to value all properties involved in conservation real estate transactions. The worth of a property without development restriction and the subsequent value of the property under the terms of the conservation easement are both determined. Conservation easements typically diminish the fair market value of a property from 25 to 50-percent, depending on the property’s location and its development potential. The difference between the two appraisals is the value of the conservation easement. In the case of The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Buyer properties, which are always sold under easement, the appraisal documentation is also used to shape the purchase and sale agreement.
A third-party appraisal is also used to determine the value of a conservation easement when that easement is purchased by a conservation organization or donated to the organization by the landowner. Conservation easements are frequently donated to land trusts, in which case the landowner may use the value of the easement as a charitable donation. Non-profit organizations must comply with guidelines that do not allow cash value to accrue to a private individual so real estate transactions of this kind must use the valuations determined by the third-party appraisal, whether it is a cash sale, a land exchange or a charitable donation.
“This unique partnership manages to conserve all that we love best in Wyoming – working ranches, abundant wildlife, and the streams and rivers that provide water for us all,” added Paula Hunker, Associate State Director and project manager for The Nature Conservancy.
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.