February 17, 2016

SUBLETTE COUNTY, Wyo. — Wide open spaces are essential for wildlife to range, roam and survive, but they also need to support the economic growth of communities and a way of life for private landowners in the West. Today, The Conservation Fund, in partnership with local ranchers and federal, state and private partners, celebrates the protection of over 100,000 acres of sage grouse habitat in Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado.

With 40 percent of the greater sage grouse range located on privately-owned grazing lands, effective strategies incorporate the needs of private landowners and coordinate with community-based efforts. For Kip Alexander, the decision to participate in a conservation program on his 1,664-acre ranch in Wyoming meant a boost for his economic bottom-line and protection of habitat for the greater sage grouse. His voluntary commitment, together with those of hundreds of like-minded landowners, has established what is now being called the largest landscape-level conservation effort in U.S. history.

“My Dad and Grandad homesteaded that ground in the early 1930’s, and we’ve taken good care of it and plan to leave it in better shape than how we got it. That’s the main purpose,” said Kip Alexander, a longtime Pinedale, Wyoming, landowner with a conservation easement on his family property. “It’s a pretty nice area with access to the river. The elk, deer, antelope and even moose all use it, and this year we had more grouse than usual—bunches of grouse. This easement will help us do what we wanted to do for many years now, and we appreciate all that Luke Lynch and The Conservation Fund did for us to make this happen. It’s a great outcome for the land and for our family.”

Over the last decade, The Conservation Fund has worked together with local communities in Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado to bring landowners, federal, state and private partners together to implement conservation easements on private working ranchlands with sage grouse habitat. In Wyoming, where nearly 40 percent of the world’s greater sage grouse population resides, The Conservation Fund conserved 15 properties and 58,500 acres through its Wyoming Sage Grouse Conservation Campaign. These lands, like Kip Alexander’s ranch, are protected from conversion under permanent conservation easements and remain privately owned, allowing the ranchers and their families to maintain traditional grazing operations that contribute to the local economy.

“Our goal is to help ranchers sustain and enhance their operations while preventing loss and fragmentation of sage grouse habitat,” said Mark Elsbree, Senior Vice President and Western Director of The Conservation Fund. “Partnerships are key to accomplishing this, and we are grateful to the remarkable vision of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and their Sage Grouse Initiative, as well as our local partners like the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust who work together to balance these environmental and economic goals.”

From 2010 to 2014, NRCS’ Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) resulted in the conservation and restoration of over 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat across the West. SGI provided the mechanism for NRCS to invest Farm Bill resources along with partners to accelerate beneficial on-the-ground conservation actions, including the conservation easement with the Alexander Family. In 2015, NRCS extended their commitments to sage grouse conservation by launching “Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0”, which includes an additional $211 million in Farm Bill funding for proactive and cooperative conservation efforts in the West through 2018.

"SGI is living proof that wildlife and agriculture can coexist and thrive together,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “Conservation easements are a powerful tool for stitching together the landscape and maintaining large and intact working ranches. During the past five years, SGI has grown the amount of land in easements 18-fold. We’re grateful for The Conservation Fund and our many other conservation partners and ranchers for taking steps to improve habitat and outcomes for sage grouse and other wildlife while strengthening agricultural operations in the West.”

Using a mix of private and public funding, the easements ensure sustainable management of the lands while protecting and enhancing large stretches of important habitat for sage grouse and a variety of other species.  In Wyoming, the conservation easements also protect lands for pronghorn antelope, elk, mule deer and Shiras moose, as well as the water quality of tributaries to the Upper Green River.

Bo Alley, Executive Director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust, which will hold and monitor five of Wyoming easements, stated: “Wyoming hosts such a large proportion of the world’s sage grouse population, thanks in part, to its working landscapes. Ag-producers rely upon healthy and productive lands and as such, have always been great stewards of the land.  This historic agricultural stewardship has helped maintain large, healthy landscapes across Wyoming and the West. I am thrilled to work with great partners, like The Conservation Fund, to conserve these working lands and look forward to our continued collaboration.”

The Wyoming projects were made possible in part, by funding from the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust.  Bob Budd, Executive Director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, said: “The incredible conservation work in Sublette County over the past several years exemplifies what can be done when people with common goals, like the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust and The Conservation Fund work with local people and others to achieve an impressive outcome, both ecologically and economically. These projects are great examples of long-time Wyoming ranches conserving important wildlife habitat and sage grouse habitats, while at the same time assuring a future for Wyoming agriculture.”

NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative funds are made possible by the Farm Bill, authorized in 2008 and 2014 by the United States Congress, including the Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado delegations. 

“This announcement is further testament to the many Colorado communities who have worked hard to develop solutions that benefit producers and local economies, protect the habitat of the Greater sage-grouse, and preserve working landscapes for future generations,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “When our local leaders can work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers willing to commit their lands, they generate these types of positive outcomes.  This is why we fought to improve and increase funding for conservation programs in the 2014 Farm Bill. Efforts like this help prove that agriculture, wildlife and conservation can coexist across the West.”

In Colorado, the state’s leading conservation groups have identified the water rights, habitat and private agricultural lands in the Upper Colorado River corridor as top priorities for conservation in the state. These ranch lands include habitat for greater sage grouse, elk, deer, pronghorn, bald eagles and a variety of aquatic species, as well as water rights crucial to the health of the river.  The Conservation Fund is playing a lead role with local ranchers along the corridor.  In partnership with the Colorado Headwaters Land Trust, and working along-side the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, over 2,000 acres have been protected in this ongoing effort.

The Conservation Fund has also been an active partner creating sage grouse solutions in Idaho.  By co-founding the Pioneer Alliance, the Fund and its partners helped to protect over 80,000 acres of vital sage grouse habitat in central Idaho with conservation easements. This effort led to national acclimations when the Pioneer Alliance won the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary’s Honor Award for Exceptional Service in Partnerships in 2014

In September 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the historic decision that greater sage grouse—a bird with a 173-million-acre range in the western United States—does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act. This decision was due in part to the successful conservation efforts that have taken place on private ranchlands over the past several years, and the likelihood that these efforts will continue in the future. 

Highlights of conserved ranchlands

Alexander Property
  • Size: 1,664 acres
  • Location: Within the “Path of the Pronghorn,” the second longest land mammal migration in North America.
  • Features: Contains more than 105 acres of wetlands and 45 glacial “potholes.”
  • Steward of conservation easement: Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust.
  • Funding sources: NRCS FRPP and Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust

Miller Land & Livestock Property (Culbertson Place)
  • Size: 1,531 acres
  • Location: Partly lies within Wyoming's Daniel Sage-Grouse Core Area and adjoins Bureau of Land Management lands and other private lands proposed for conservation
  • Features: Contains a diverse mix of riparian land along North Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Green River.
  • Steward of conservation easement: Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust.
  • Funding sources: NRCS FRPP; Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust; and The Conservation Fund’s Sage-Grouse Campaign.

Rolling Thunder Ranch Property
  • Size: 3,239 acres
  • Location: Borders the Bridger-Teton National Forest and 12,000 acres of protected ranch land.
  • Features: Contains an important migration corridor on private land for mule deer.
  • Features: Provides habitat for the largest concentration of Shiras Moose in the U.S.
  • Steward of conservation easement: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
  • Funding sources: NRCS FRPP; Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust; Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; The Conservation Fund’s Sage-Grouse Campaign.

Miller Property (The Cabins Ranch)
  • Size: 2,831 acres
  • Location: Along the watershed divide between the upper Snake River and the Upper Green River.
  • Features: Contains an important migration corridor on private land for mule deer.
  • Steward of conservation easement:  Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust.
  • Funding sources: NRCS FRPP; Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust; The Conservation Fund’s Sage-Grouse Campaign.


McElroy Ranch
  • Size: 548 acres
  • Location: At the confluence of the Colorado River, the Blue River, and Muddy Creek, and lies within the Upper Colorado River Special Recreation Management Area.
  • Features: Three miles of the Colorado River and 1.5 miles of Muddy Creek.
  • Steward of conservation easement:  Colorado Headwaters Land Trust.
  • Funding sources: NRCS FRPP; Great Outdoors Colorado; Gates Family Foundation.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 7.5 million acres of land.

Release Contact:
Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | (703) 908-5809 | asimonelli@conservationfund.org