Selected tag(s): Wyoming

The secret survival of the “masked bandit” in the vanishing prairie

The black-footed ferret is known for its bandit-like mask of dark fur around its eyes. (Photo credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie)

The black-footed ferret, nicknamed the "masked bandit" for its racoon-like markings, is one of the most endangered mammals in North America – so scarce it was once thought to be extinct.

The last of the wild population of black-footed ferrets was thought to have died in 1974 in South Dakota, and the last ferret of the captive breeding program died in 1979.

Somehow, though, a number of ferrets were secretly surviving near the small town of Meeteetse, Wyoming.

In 1981, a cattle dog named Shep brought a dead ferret home to his owners. The ranchers took the ferret to a local taxidermist, who identified it as the once “extinct” black-footed ferret.

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What we've learned from 50 years of wildlife conservation

Wildlife conservation practices are helping protect our nation's treasured emblem: the bald eagle

Photo: © Holger Ehlers

When the first endangered species list was created 50 years ago, it started out with 78 animals. The grizzly bear and bald eagle were among American icons that made that first list.

Today, it counts 1,400 animals and 900 plants – an expansion that reflects more petitions for listings over time, but also the fact that threats to habitats and ecosystems have become more widespread and complex.

In the early days of the Endangered Species Act, we could more easily identify the threat and go straight to the source. When DDT was thinning egg shells, killing embryos and endangering multiple bird species, we worked to curb applications of the harmful pesticide. After a federal ban against DDT, the problem was solved.

Today, threats are more likely to come from broad landscape changes that occur when growing populations push housing and commercial developments outward, energy development and large-scale farming fragment and encroach on habitats, and climate change-related droughts and wildfires degrade entire ecosystems. Read More »

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What do western ranchers and a southern environmentalist have in common?

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

I trace my love of the outdoors to two memories: the first, sitting with my grandmother watching the goldfinches, chickadees and wrens that visited her feeder, and the second, camping in Pisgah National Forest with my parents and sister.

Days spent with my grandmother in our small South Carolina town left an indelible mark on my life. She taught me a conservation ethic that led me to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Camping taught me a love of the land and a respect for those that manage it.

As director of habitat markets, I’m focused on building conservation solutions for wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, a bird that lives more than 2,000 miles from my home in a landscape unlike any of the forests or farms I grew up exploring.

The sage-grouse is an indicator species of a vast declining ecosystem spanning more than 150 million acres across 11 states. The grouse relies on the cover of sagebrush – one of the most iconic symbols of the western landscape.

Because EDF puts a premium on policy, science and collaboration with diverse stakeholders, we’ve been working with landowners, industry, and state and federal agencies to create a habitat exchange program to better ensure the bird’s survival. Common values make this collaboration possible. Read More »

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Ranchers and conservationists step up to avert listing of sage-grouse

Stakeholders conduct field tests for the Colorado Habitat Exchange on a ranch in Colorado.

Stakeholders conduct field tests for the Colorado Habitat Exchange on a ranch in Colorado.

The decision whether or not to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act was one of the biggest listing decisions of our time.

Thanks to unprecedented public-private partnerships among ranchers, energy developers, conservationists and states, we now have the groundwork to guide future management of our nation’s wildlife and working landscapes.

The “not warranted” decision sends a strong signal that investments in conservation are making a difference, providing the catalyst for a new approaches and a different kind of politics.

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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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Feds call for cooperative conservation on sage grouse, states deliver

"An unprecedented, collaborative effort" was a blog published last week by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, BLM Director Neil Kornze, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and NRCS Chief Jason Weller

"An unprecedented, collaborative effort" was a blog published last week in The Hill by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, BLM Director Neil Kornze, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and NRCS Chief Jason Weller.

Last week, leaders of the four federal agencies dealing most closely with issues surrounding the greater sage-grouse delivered a strong public message: As long as stakeholders continue to work together, we can save this bird and preclude the need for listing.

The message was powerful – not just because it was endorsed by four of our nation’s top thinkers on conservation, but because it was optimistic.

“We have seen what’s possible when we all pull our oars in the same direction,” they wrote.

This is a fundamental turning of the tides in the conversation around sage grouse. Previously, the dialogue has been pointed, with industry interests, agriculture interests and wildlife interests caught in crosshairs. But the discourse has changed, and it’s because the situation on the ground has changed. Read More »

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A sixth-generation farmer with a fresh and optimistic perspective on conservation

O'Toole Family

Pat O'Toole (second from left) and his family at Ladder Ranch.

Pat O’Toole is a rancher and farmer at Ladder Livestock, a sixth-generation family operation on the Little Snake River along the Wyoming-Colorado border. A leader in collaborative conservation, Pat is engaged in a number of innovative land and water conservation efforts in his capacity as president of the Family Farm Alliance and a member of the AGree advisory board.

This past September, Pat co-authored an AGree paper with Dan Keppen, Executive Director of Family Farm Alliance. The paper – Securing the Future of Western Agriculture: A Perspective of Western Producers – addresses some broad challenges facing the global food and agriculture system. Namely, the need to meet future demands for food while simultaneously enhancing water, soil and other natural resources.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Pat’s ranch to get a sense of these challenges that he and other Western producers face, and to learn more about what Pat is doing to overcome these challenges on his ranch. I asked him to give us a recap of our discussion and to tell us more about his vision for the future.
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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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