Conservation efforts: TNC expands influence internationallyWritten by Saige Albert
“The Nature Conservancy has been working in Argentina for a number of years,” comments Paula Hunker, Wyoming associate state director for The Nature Conservancy. “We had the opportunity to bring five gentlemen to Wyoming. They are interested in learning more about our conservation efforts here to identify what methods could be appropriate for the Patagonia region of Argentina.”
“Producers in Wyoming and Argentina have a lot in common,” adds Conservation Initiatives Director Arlen Lancaster. “They are great stewards of the land and sharing information about conservation tools just makes sense.”
Hunker notes the partnership works well because of the similarities between Wyoming and Argentina.
“The Patagonia steppe, for example, is very similar to our sagebrush steppe,” she explains, noting that Patagonia has lots of open country and rugged mountains as well. “They are working on the same types of things as we are, looking at a sustainable future for the Patagonia area.”
The group commented that if they didn’t see any signs in English, they might easily think they were home in Argentina.
“There is a natural partnership,” Hunker says.
“The main difference is that about 90 percent of Argentina’s land is in private hands,” she notes. “They are interested in learning how we work on private land conservation.”
The Argentines also looked at government involvement and incentives for conservation on private lands.
“One method of establishing conservation efforts on private lands is the use of conservation easements,” comments Hunker, who added that only one conservation easement is in place in the entire country of Argentina.
Rather than telling the Argentine group about Wyoming initiatives, Hunker invited the group to visit producers across the state for a hands-on look at conservation efforts.
“We started by visiting with Representative Kermit Brown in Laramie,” she explains. “We were looking for someone involved in the government to talk about addressing conservation from that perspective.”
Brown visited with the groups about incentives, conservation easements and strategies that have and have not worked, as well as how Wyoming has embraced private land conservation.
“From there, we visited John and Reece Johnson’s Ranch out of Elk Mountain,” she says. “They have a conservation easement on their ranch.”
Along with asking questions about the family’s ranch and water restoration efforts the family has taken on, the Argentine visitors were intrigued by things that many people in Wyoming consider every-day sights.
“We stopped to see a wind turbine because they had never seen one up close,” Hunker notes, “and we talked to the ranchers moving about 9,000 head of cattle. They were fascinated. We took advantage of every opportunity.”
The group also toured Red Canyon Ranch near Lander, which is operated by The Nature Conservancy. They went on to visit a ranching operation outside of Farson, ending at Pat and Sharon O’Toole’s ranching operation in Savery.
“We spent a few hours to show them what we do,” comments Pat O’Toole. “We have some land that we have a conservation easement on, and they wanted to see some of the river restoration work we have done where we integrated our fishery and irrigation systems.”
He continues, explaining that they also shared their experience about how easements work.
“We are interested in helping the Argentinians learn how we did all of this,” he adds. “It sounds like there is an interest in doing conservation like this in Argentina.”
Land conservation efforts
“We ended up in Salt Lake City at the Land Trust Alliance Rally,” Hunker comments. “There were people from Chile there who also talked about easements. We were able to visit with them about the role of The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming.”
“Right now we are working on the second and third conservation easements in Argentina,” Hunker mentions. “They have letters of intent with two ranches. We will be helping the local Patagonian land trust and the landowners work through the deed of the conservation easements.”
Hunker hopes that The Nature Conservancy’s experience working with Wyoming landowners on private lands conservation will be helpful to Argentine producers and conservation groups.
Hunker says she foresees a long future working with Argentina’s land groups to develop conservation efforts.
“We are hoping to set up an exchange,” she says. “We want to bring Wyoming cattlemen, sheep men, representatives of the legislature and others to help them figure out how to move conservation forward so it really works for the local people.”
With Wyoming’s partnerships with Argentina in other areas, such as livestock genetics, Hunker says there are a number of opportunities to come together.
“Anytime we can see how someone else does things, we can learn something,” says O’Toole. “My wife and I have talked about going to Patagonia to see how they do things.”
“If we can share the lessons that we have learned and talk about how we try to keep the land intact, it is valuable,” Hunker comments. “They can learn from us, and we can learn from them. It’s very exciting.”
The five Argentines who visited Wyoming to learn about the efforts of The Nature Conservancy include a range of conservation-minded leaders.
“One gentleman works for The Nature Conservancy as a coordinator for working landscapes strategy,” says Paula Hunker, who serves in Wyoming as The Nature Conservancy’s associate state director. “There was also another man who is the Estancia manager of a 70,000 acre cattle ranch.”
The Director of the Foundation for the Conservation of Patagonian Land also attended, and Hunker notes he serves as the main partner of The Nature Conservancy. The Foundation for the Conservation of Patagonian Land is the local land trust.
Additionally the group’s former president was part of the group and represented the Cattlemen’s Rural Association, an organization similar to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
Lastly, Argentina’s Coordinator of the Grasslands Program of Aves Argentina’s - Bird Life International was present on the tour of Wyoming.
“We have had several groups of people come from Argentina,” comments Hunker. “They are working toward a sustainable future for the Patagonia region.”