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Ranchers, Conservationists Team Up to Protect Active Sage Grouse Breeding Grounds

March 17, 2010 | Daniel, WY

For Immediate Release

Contacts:
Vanessa Vaughan, The Conservation Fund, (703) 908-5809
Liz LeSatz, Wyoming Stock Growers Ag Land Trust, (307) 772-8751

Daniel, WY (March 17, 2010) – Demonstrating a strong long-term commitment to protecting family-owned ranches, open space and wildlife habitat in Wyoming, The Conservation Fund and the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust, with key support from the Jonah Interagency Office (JIO), announced today the completion of a critical conservation project near Daniel, in the Upper Green River Valley.

The Aspen Ridge Habitat Conservation Project protects 640 acres of prime sage grouse habitat through a conservation easement and improves habitat conditions on 10,400 acres of adjacent land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  The portion under the conservation easement will remain in private ownership for agricultural use.

“This great partnership with Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust and the Jonah Interagency Office fosters a greater understanding and cooperation between agricultural and conservation communities,” said Luke Lynch, Wyoming state director for The Conservation Fund. “We’ve covered so much ground together in the past few years and have made a real difference in the habitat quality of the Upper Green River Valley, while at the same time preserving Wyoming’s strong legacy of family ranching.”

The property contains two active breeding grounds for the sage grouse, as well as an established antelope migration corridor. It also provides crucial winter range for mule deer and important yearlong habitat for elk, moose and more than 60 of Wyoming’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Joining with surrounding BLM land and other private lands under conservation easements, this property forms a 35,000-acre block of protected land.

“The Aspen Ridge project affects prime sagebrush steppe land on a large scale in an area of critical importance,” said Leah Burgess, field representative for Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust.  “This project demonstrates the value of organizations working together to achieve substantial conservation outcomes.  Through our partnership with The Conservation Fund and the Jonah Interagency Office, we have been able to serve the landowner’s conservation goals while forever protecting natural and agricultural resources with high public value.”

The Conservation Fund negotiated the terms and the purchase of the easement with the family that owns and operates the ranch, Bob McNeel and Eva and Lee Kelly. The Stock Growers Ag Land Trust, with consultation from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, will monitor the conditions of the property. The JIO provided a majority of the funding for the purchase of the easement. Additional funding came from the Tom Thorne Sage Grouse Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy, through a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

“This partnership with other agencies and the McNeel/Kelly family to protect open space, agriculture and wildlife is something we are extremely proud of,” said Jason Fearneyhough, Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, which is one of the JIO agencies. “This easement will maintain the ranching operation while implementing a conservation plan that is sustainable for both agriculture and wildlife for years to come.”

“It’s such a pleasure working with Wyoming’s ranching families along with our conservation partners, The Conservation Fund and the Stock Growers Ag Land Trust, to protect world-class wildlife species, including their critical migration routes and habitat,” said Jim Lucas, project coordinator for the Jonah Interagency Office. “The Jonah Interagency Office prizes its relationships with private landowners making a living in agriculture. This wonderful ‘synergy’ among landowners and partners has additionally provided important ‘habitat connectivity’ with adjacent areas of high conservation values, including the magnificent Cottonwood Ranches.”

The Conservation Fund and the Stock Growers Ag Land Trust pioneered the use of oil and gas mitigation funds from the JIO in 2008 with the protection of the family-owned Cottonwood Ranches, located near the Aspen Ridge Habitat Conservation Project. Since then, the partners have completed four other projects with JIO funds, conserving nearly 8,000 acres in the Upper Green River Valley.

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About The Conservation Fund
The Conservation Fund is dedicated to advancing America’s land and water legacy.  With our partners, we conserve land, train leaders and invest in conservation at home.  Since 1985, we have helped protect more than 6 million acres, sustaining wild havens, working lands and vibrant communities.  We’re a top-ranked conservation organization, effective and efficient. www.conservationfund.org

About the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust
The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust is dedicated to conserving Wyoming’s working family farms and ranches and the wide-open spaces, natural habitats, and western lifestyle they support. Founded by a vote of the general membership of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in December 2000, the Stock Growers Ag Land Trust has conserved more than 110,000 acres of working ranchlands throughout Wyoming. For more information visit www.wsgalt.org or contact us at 307.772.8751 or info@wsgalt.org.

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