Face Of This Place

Luke Lynch, Greater Yellowstone Area

Thirty years ago this spring, a group of visionary conservationists set out to build a new brand of land conservation, one that kept economic development at the heart of everything we do. We’ve achieved great success, not only in the number of acres protected, but also in the quality of life of communities across the country. In celebration of our anniversary we are highlighting 30 projects that reflect the diversity, complexity and creativity of our work. Collectively, they tell our story, of our determination and dedication for sustainably preserving America’s landscapes. Here Luke Lynch shares the story of our work on the Greater Yellowstone Area.

What do you love about Wyoming?

Wyoming has tremendous open spaces, wildlife habitat, and an amazing culture of people that work the land. It’s a wonderful culture that involves working ranches and amazing big game migration routes and big game populations. To me the core of that is the Greater Yellowstone Area with animals and landscapes that are connected to Yellowstone; it’s the heart of northwestern Wyoming. 

How did our work at Greater Yellowstone begin?

We’ve worked around the Greater Yellowstone, in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming since almost the founding of The Conservation Fund. And that’s primarily because you’ve got these large blocks of federal lands but they are incomplete. It’s not the entire picture. It doesn’t protect the whole lifecycle of wildlife as is needed. So we’ve worked on the private lands at the edge of the Greater Yellowstone and on in-holdings within the national forest and national park really for 30 years now.

As the science evolves, so too have our efforts. We are now working a lot with landowners on migration routes and crucial winter range for big game that spend it’s summers in the high country, in the mountains, that are protected through wilderness or federal lands. But these animals, mule deer, elk, and antelope, need the low lying lands for their winter survival and those are private and not protected lands. A lot of our effort is focused on land along rivers like the south fork of the Snake River in Idaho and the Upper Green River in Wyoming; these really important places for Yellowstone’s wildlife in the fall, winter, and spring.

What more do we have to accomplish?

It’s often work to  protect these small parcels, 40 to 500 acre parcels, well small by Wyoming standards, that have an outsized importance. They are the little dots within the protected areas but they would have a real negative impact if they were to be developed. So we’re working to connect those dots with the existing protected pieces.

And then we have the larger parcels, the focus areas, like the south fork of the Snake River where we’ve stitched a landscape back together in a very strategic way. The canyon of the south fork is this incredibly rich trout fishery and habitat for bald eagles and shiras moose. Over the past 20 or so years we’ve acquired 100 separate parcels of land here and that’s land that is now open for camping, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. In the Upper Green we’re more focused on wildlife migration; we’ve successfully protected really important portions of the Path of the Pronghorn which is the longest pronghorn migration corridor in the world. We’re now embarking on a campaign to protect the Red Desert to Hoback migration route; the longest mule deer migration route in the world. These are really special, unique phenomena that are the last, best migration routes left in the west. These routes used to be all over the west and now there are just a few that still exist. We are doing everything we can, working with landowners in a voluntary manner, to see them exist for another generation. 

If you had to describe this area to someone who’d never been there, what would you say made Greater Yellowstone so special?

It’s the largest, relatively intact, temperate ecosystem left on the planet; the most undisturbed temperate ecosystem that we have. It has truly world-class wildlife and ecological significance. I believe the passenger pigeon is the only species that was once here that is no longer, otherwise every species that existed when this area was settled and colonized remains here today.

How has the work evolved on this landscape over the last 30 years?

The projects have become increasingly sophisticated, complex, and dependent on large-scale, collaborative efforts. That’s been a real shift in the last decade or so. We are working in a much more complex funding environment. We need to engage on more levels. And I think also we’re involving compatible uses of the land in our conservation. More and more of our projects involve continued ranching and recreation use. It’s more of a holistic approach to land conservation than it was 30 years ago. 

Learn More

The Conservation Fund's 30th Anniversary
Greater Yellowstone Area
More Face Of This Place