Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust: Conserving Wyoming’s agricultural land
Sublette County – The Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust (WSGLT) has served the Sublette County agricultural community as a means to conserve the western way of life, natural resources and the ranching lifestyle. Jessica Crowder, the executive director with WSGLT discusses goals, important information of the association and several conservation projects in Sublette County, which took place in the summer of 2021.
“WSGLT is the first and only statewide agricultural land trust in Wyoming,” says Jessica. The land trust, “Works to conserve working lands; preserving our agricultural heritage and the many public benefits that result from intact agricultural lands.”
The mission is accomplished through working and partnering with landowners across Wyoming in voluntary, permanent agricultural conservation easements.
To date, “WSGLT has partnered with 79 families to conserve over 287,000 acres of agricultural land,” Jessica shares.
In order to support Wyoming’s rural economies, private landowners and stewards must be supported in efforts to conserve lands for future generations.
“Private, agricultural lands provide a multitude of benefits to Wyoming citizens and visitors including our nation’s food, fiber, habitat for fish and wildlife, clean air, water and scenic open spaces,” shares Jessica.
“Landowners are our most important partner,” says Jessica. “Without ranchers’ voluntary commitments to conserve agricultural lands, Wyomingites – and all who visit – would not be able to enjoy the vast and diverse lands well into the future.”
Voluntary conservation easements are one tool that landowners can use to help protect their land and heritage, plan for succession and transition and provide financial support and tax incentives.
Sublette County projects
“This summer, the WSGLT staff spent four consecutive days monitoring 26 different easements in Sublette County,” Jessica shares. She notes the land trust currently holds conservation easements on nearly 73,000 acres alone in Sublette County, including two new easements in the county this year.
Private, agricultural lands in Sublette County provide remarkable public benefits. The land under conservation easement with WSGLT is no exception.
The benefits include affect “Greater sage grouse core areas, pronghorn antelope migration corridors, mule deer migration corridors, riparian areas and habitat for fish and wildlife, crucial big game areas for moose, mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and scenic views of iconic mountain ranges such as the Wyoming Range and Wind River Range,” according to Jessica.
Annually, each easement of land is monitored by staff using a truck, all-terrain vehicle, by foot or drone.
“Monitoring is essential in ensuring conservation values and deed terms are being upheld,” says Cidney Handy, WSGLT stewardship coordinator.
During the monitoring process, significant or development changes to the landscape are noted.
Challenges and misconceptions
“Understanding deed terms can be confusing, especially for a new landowner of an existing conservation easement,” Cidney explains. “One challenge we face is connecting with new landowners and ensuring they fully understanding these deed terms.”
The WSGLT works to efficiently communicate with landowners in an effort to explain the deed terms and helping them understand their rights, while also protecting the conservation values of the easements.
“The WSGLT staff will try to schedule annual monitoring visits around ranchers’ schedules to ensure that new landowners are met in person and have any questions or concerns addressed,” Cidney explains.
There can be several challenges associated with placing conservation easements on agriculture properties and these vary geographically and over time.
“One common challenge is funding purchased conservation easements,” Jessica continues. “We continue to work with federal, state and private partners to provide appropriate funds for purchased conservation easements.”
Through the years many common misconceptions have surfaced regarding conservation easements that then trickle down to the land trust.
The first misconception Jessica shares is, “Some ranchers fear they may lose the ability to manage their land for agricultural purposes.”
In reality, Jessica notes, “The WSGLT does not dictate management of the land.”
WSGLT understands that management practices will change and evolve over time and often times those closest to the land, ranchers, are best equipped to make those decisions, Jessica explains.
Another misconception Jessica shares is conservation easements are an attempt to permanently reduce production via “land grab” in an effort to preserve lands in a wilderness-type state.
Jessica explains, “Conservation easements with the WSGLT are voluntary agreements that limit the amount and type of development on a property. It’s a way to maintain the land’s productive capacity and open character.”
“Landowners retain the title to the property and all other rights of property ownership,” she adds.
In addition, conservation easements are individually designed to meet the property owners’ specific, unique goals while preserving conservation and agricultural values.
Jessica shares ranchers and interested parties can visit the WSGLT website to download or request a conservation easement information packet. Ranchers are also welcome to stop by the office in Cheyenne or call.
“All conservation easement projects begin by contacting WSGLT to discuss a ranch’s conservation goals and provide preliminary information about the property under consideration,” Jessica shares.
Staff are trained to answer landowner questions and provide details about the conservation easement process.
“The establishment of the WSGLT was based on the growing need within the ranching community to provide voluntary, private-sector options for agricultural land conservation,” Jessica adds.
In conclusion, Jessica shares this need has not diminished. “We encourage interested landowners to contact us to determine if a conservation easement is a good fit for them, their families, their goals and their land,” she notes.
For more information about the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust, visit wsglt.org.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.