In Wyoming, Using Mitigation To Benefit Family Ranches
Gas drilling in Wyoming.
Photo by Emilene Ostlind
Across Wyoming’s Green River Basin, grazing pronghorn and vibrating drill rigs cast shadows on the horizon. These unlikely neighbors illustrate a growing land management issue: how to plumb natural gas fields while limiting damage to wildlife and habitat. For energy companies and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages and sells oil and gas leases on publicly-owned land in Wyoming, one collaborative mitigation effort points the way forward.
This effort involves the Jonah Field, a 30,000-acre natural gas field operated by Encana Oil & Gas and BP America Production Co. To compensate for habitat loss at the Jonah Field, the companies agreed to finance a $24.5 million mitigation fund, to be managed by a new governmental entity called the Jonah Interagency Mitigation & Reclamation Office.
BLM turned to The Conservation Fund to lead the first conservation real estate deal using Jonah Interagency Office funds. Acting on the results of a conservation model, BLM sought to protect nearby land that’s rich in critical wildlife habitat yet unsuitable for drilling.
To accomplish that goal, we acquired a conservation easement on the 1,000-acre Cottonwood Ranches, a classic Wyoming property. We negotiated the easement at a good value for the public and then built the necessary financing, leveraging mitigation funds with support from local organizations. This landmark mitigation project generated positive media coverage as a step forward for a region struggling to reconcile the trade-offs between human and natural needs.
Building on this success, at the end of 2008 we helped complete the region’s largest purchased conservation easement—protecting more than 2,000 acres of MJ Ranch, a family-owned working ranch southeast of Boulder. It is the largest purchased conservation easement in the Green River valley of Wyoming.
The Jonah Interagency Mitigation and Reclamation Office and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department identified the MJ Ranch as a top conservation priority. The Fund worked with owners of the ranch to place the property under a conservation easement, while the Wyoming Game & Fish Department developed habitat enhancement plans for the land. The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust will monitor and enforce the easement, permanently preserving the ranch’s traditional agricultural operation.
Our mitigation work in the region continues. With our partners, we work to balance the protection of nature with the development of new energy resources for the nation’s businesses and homes.