Growing Returns

How the farm bill helps landowners and wildlife thrive together

This week, the Senate advanced a farm bill that includes many important provisions for conservation on America’s working farms, ranches and forestlands. Among these provisions is language codifying the Working Lands for Wildlife program that helps farmers and ranchers restore habitat for at-risk wildlife. It’s the first time the program has been formally recognized in the farm bill.

Thanks to the work of private landowners, conservation groups, tribes, and state and government agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in September 2015 to remove the New England cottontail from the endangered species candidate list due to recovery. (Photo credit: Brian Tefft, Principal Wildlife Biologist at Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife.)

Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service program, USDA provides technical and financial assistance to landowners who voluntarily make improvements to wildlife habitat on their property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pairs this with regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s a win-win approach for improving agricultural productivity while enhancing habitat for wildlife.

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Federal rollbacks + huge new oil and gas project = trouble for Wyoming

This blog was co-authored by Jon Goldstein and Sara Brodnax.

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management collected comments from citizens and groups concerned about the impacts of a proposed 5,000-well oil and gas project in eastern Wyoming.

The situation has a troubling irony, because as BLM reviews the project’s environmental risks, it is simultaneously working to roll back its own commonsense standards to stop oil and gas companies from venting, flaring, and leaking away pollution and valuable natural gas.

Oil and gas development in Wyoming

Rapid oil and gas development at times put Pinedale, Wyoming on par with smoggy Los Angeles in terms of ozone levels.

It’s the same story for the greater sage-grouse, which without strong mitigation measures will likely abandon critical breeding sites in the area set to be impacted by the planned oil and gas project. Here, too, BLM has signaled several attempts to unravel the collaborative, decades-forged plans to protect the imperiled bird.

The combination of weakening policies while expanding development could have disastrous consequences for Wyoming and other western states if methane pollution goes unchecked and the greater sage-grouse continues to decline.

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With the launching of a new market, he’s a vanguard of grouse conservation in Wyoming

Eric Peterson

Eric Peterson has been hired to fill a new position as pilot administrator of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange.

A landowner-led conservation effort in Wyoming has sparked a new market and has now created a new job.

The University of Wyoming recently announced the hiring of a new pilot administrator of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange, a voluntary, market-based program that seeks to enroll local landowners in landscape-scale conservation of greater sage-grouse, mule deer and hydrologic services.

Eric was formerly manager of the Sublette County Conservation District, where he played a critical role in developing the Wyoming Conservation Exchange with partners from the University of Wyoming, Environmental Defense Fund, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

In his new role, Eric will work with potential buyers and sellers of conservation credits to facilitate pilot transactions and market growth.

I asked Eric to share some thoughts on what drew him to this role and what he hopes to achieve over the next few months.

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Wyoming ranchers steward land, cattle and the greater sage-grouse

Cattle ranching and greater sage-grouse can not only co-exist, but thrive. Or, as some would say, "What's good for the herd is good for the bird."

Cattle ranching and greater sage-grouse can not only coexist, but thrive. 

Ranchers and other private landowners have a critical role to play in conserving wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, which could face listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2015.

Home to nearly half of the greater sage-grouse’s remaining habitat, Wyoming is a landscape critical to the recovery of the species. A full 40 percent of the bird’s habitat in the state is privately held. Therefore, common sense solutions are needed to reward ranchers and other private landowners for conservation actions that protect vital habitat.

A rural, working landscape

Private lands in the West are often found near water, as ranches and other homesteaders put down stakes where they had ready access to water. For similar reasons, these areas are also critically important to wildlife.

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