Oklahoma rancher protects family land with conservation easement

Paul and Jackie Seeley recently conserved 1,784 acres of their family ranch through a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy that will keep it intact as a working ranch and free from development.

In northwestern Oklahoma lies a region marked with beautiful prairie vistas, rich grazing lands, pristine streams and deep red canyon walls. Known as the Red Hills, this area plays host to rich and diverse plant and wildlife communities.

Like many other western rangelands, ranching is deeply ingrained in the culture and economy of the Red Hills, and the majority of land area is comprised of privately-owned ranches. The landowners are rooted in a strong land stewardship ethic, and this ethic is largely responsible for the persistence of species like the lesser prairie-chicken.

Paul Seeley of Eureka, KS is no stranger to ranching. As a child, he grew up working and playing on a family ranch in the Red Hills of Oklahoma which his father passed on to him, along with his passion for grazing and native grasslands. Just recently, Paul decided it was time for him to do the same and secure the future of this intact piece of the Red Hills for future generations of Oklahoma.

Thanks to a program available through the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Paul and Jackie Seeley recently conserved 1,784 acres of their family ranch through a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy that will keep it intact as a working ranch but free from development.

“It appealed to me that an easement guaranteed that it would not be devoted to anything other than grazing. That’s primarily why I am involved in this. I’m really impressed with the NRCS and The Nature Conservancy and their efforts to do that,” said Paul Seeley.

The Nature Conservancy’s primary goal in the Red Hills is to conserve remaining native prairies and the animals that use them over a large-scale area. Other Conservancy projects in western Oklahoma include the Four Canyon Preserve (4,050 acres) in Ellis County and Black Mesa Preserve (1,660 acres) in Cimarron County.

“This easement is important for several reasons, most important being that it conserves a working ranch located in Oklahoma’s iconic mixed-grass prairie,” said Mike Fuhr, State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “So many of our remaining intact prairies are the result of good ranching stewardship - this project keeps the land in the Seeley family, preserves their traditional ranching practices, and protects the land for future generations.”

The partnership was formed utilizing the USDA-NRCS Agriculture Land Easement (ALE) Program via which the NRCS works with eligible state, local, tribal, and non-profit entities who arrange for the purchase of development rights through conservation easements on private lands.

“This ALE easement represents a successful partnership with the Seeley family, The Nature Conservancy, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, all of which are committed to protecting important prairie land resource and improving Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat,” said Gary O’Neill, State Conservationist for the NRCS.

The partnering entity must ensure that the land and all landowners listed on the deed meet the requirements for the ALE program. For land to be eligible for the ALE program, it must meet the following criteria:

  • Private or tribal agricultural land
  • Subject to a written pending offer of an agriculture land easement from an eligible entity
  • Must be cropland, grassland, pastureland, nonindustrial private forestland, in an area that has access to agriculture markets for products, or is land that faces development pressure from nonagricultural use

“Mr. Seeley and his wife have been great stewards of the land. With the ALE program, this was a way for them to fulfill their wishes and preserve the native habitat on their property for future generations,” said Woods County District Conservationist Shellie Oliphant.

For more information on the ALE program, please visit your local USDA service center or online.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.