WWNRT move several projects through LegislatureWritten by Christy Hemken
“One person called these projects the most impressive array of projects they’ve seen in 30 years of conservation work,” says WWNRT Executive Director Bob Budd of the bill, which contains an appropriation of $4,521,701 from the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Income Account.
Aside from conservation easements, which Budd says account for most of the funding, a new project includes fish passage on Clear Creek and the Powder River. “That work is in conjunction with the ranchers in Johnson County and it will open up 40 or 50 miles of stream for warm water fish to travel for spawning,” he says. Currently they can’t get through because of a high dam.
Another first-time project is a portion of the funding for an underpass near Baggs for deer. “They lose 350 to 400 deer each year at that site, and every time there’s a collision with a deer it can cost between $2,000 and $4,000, not including the potential loss of life,” says Budd. “We may save millions by doing this project. Our partnership with the Game and Fish Commission and the Wyoming Department of Transportation should allow us to get the project done sooner than if we weren’t a participant.”
A big project on Cottonwood and Grass creeks in Washakie and Hot Springs counties incorporates 30 miles of saltcedar and Russian olive removal. “This project will finish saltcedar and Russian olive control on two more major tributaries in central Wyoming,” says Budd.
Other projects, says Budd, are continuations of projects that have already been highly successful. He names Bates Creek and the North Laramie Range project as two of them, as well as the Lander Front mule deer project and an aspen project in the Wyoming Range.
The remainder, and the bulk, of the funding will be applied toward conservation easements in Sublette, Fremont and Sheridan counties.
The Hovendick Easement near Hudson will lie on a working family ranch that contains a segment of the Popo Agie River. “This will provide a corridor between the reservation and the river for mule deer,” says Wyoming Stockgrowers Ag Land Trust (WSGALT) Executive Director Pam Dewell.
Another project that would be held by WSGALT is the Cottonwood North Bench Easement. “This is the second phase of a three-part project on the Cottonwood Ranch in Sublette County,” says Dewell. WSGALT already holds the first easement on the ranch in a partnership with The Conservation Fund.
The Wyoming Game and Fish will partner with WSGALT on the Sommers-Grindstone Easement, which will lie on two family ranches in Sublette County. “The Sommers ranch has been in the family since 1900, and the Miller family has owned the Grindstone Land and Cattle Co. since before Wyoming’s statehood,” says Dewell.
The project will cover over 20,000 acres and will include a range of partners. “This is an enormous landowner contribution,” says Dewell. “The Sommers-Grindstone project will be an amazing consortium of groups working together because we all have an interest in seeing 20,000 acres of heritage ranchland preserved.”
“One neat thing about the Sommers-Grindstone easement is that it’s sponsored by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, but the easement will be held by the Wyoming Stockgrowers Ag Land Trust,” says Budd. “The partnerships on this easement are what we had hoped to see happen with this program. It’s a really good project to show how all the components can come together when people get together to work on something that we need to do.”
The Kusel Ranch occupies 1,040 acres in Sheridan County and its easement would conserve working ranchlands and maintain the viewsheds they provide, says Budd.
“The important thing about the WWNRT is they’re very willing to be the first donor on a project,” says Dewell. “We have found them invaluable when going out for other funding. It gives us a lot of momentum to go to other funders and say, ‘This is important to the community and the state.’”
“The story here is about some of these important Wyoming ranches that have been ranches for generations. These easements are helping them remain in ranching,” says Dewell. “The Sommers family does not have heirs and they want to make sure the ranch stays in production. We are in the fortunate position, due to the WWNRT, to conserve some of Wyoming’s most important ranch lands.”
“I was really happy to see a very broad-based group of people testify in support of this funding bill this time around,” says Dewell of the bill’s introduction to the Legislature.
This year marks the third that the WWNRT has worked with the Legislature to approve projects.
Budd says he expects the funding for all selected projects to move smoothly through all phases of the Legislature. “The partnership that’s developed between the Legislature and the WWNRT board is pretty exciting, and we’re really happy with the way this has been going.”