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Grassland CRP enrollment show record interest in habitat leasing in Wyoming

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Interest in habitat leasing through the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is on the rise. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) accepted 147,612 acres across 15 counties into Grassland CRP from landowners across the state of Wyoming. 

Several counties, such as Albany, Carbon and Weston, experienced acreage acceptance for the first time since the program’s inception in 2015, and more acres were offered this year than any previous years. 

Grassland CRP was established in the 2014 Farm Bill as a working lands program.

Landowners can still graze livestock and harvest seed and hay on enrolled acres. Significant updates in the 2018 Farm Bill made the program applicable to Western rangelands. 

Under current rules, ranchers are awarded a minimum of $13 per acre annually, but payments can range from $13 to $25 per acre, depending on the county in Wyoming, for sustaining wildlife habitat by not developing the land or converting it into row crops. 

The “lease” of grassland habitat endures for 10 or 15 years, and annual rental payments are capped at $50,000 per year. 

Wyoming enrollment

Shaleas Harrison, Wyoming resource coordinator for the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA), noted part of this year’s elevated enrollment can be attributed to a priority ranking several counties received as a result of a federal-state partnership to conserve migratory big game habitat. 

“Focused resources established through the state of Wyoming and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Big Game Conservation Partnership provide incentives to landowners in counties across the state,” Harrison said. 

Counties within state and/or national priority zones, such as Carbon County, saw thousands of acres offered by landowners.

“Wyoming farmers and ranchers play a critical role in helping secure the future of our food production and our natural resources. Historically, production agriculture and grazing land have created and sustained healthy and balanced economic development,” said Bill Bunce, FSA’s Wyoming state executive director. 

“This yearʼs successful Grassland CRP sign-up proves there is interest in sustaining conservation, wildlife habitat, water and production agriculture,” he added.

Data provided by Wyoming FSA shows the change in acreage and rental rates over the years (see adjacent table). 

Counties within the priority zones demonstrated record-high interest in the program in 2023. 

“For a while now, landowners have been asking for a habitat lease to offset the cost of providing wildlife habitat,” said Harrison. “It’s great to see landowners rewarded for stewarding wildlife and open space. Working lands are an important piece to wildlife migrations.” 

Grassland CRP

Landowners who ultimately enroll acreage into the program are subject to a conservation plan developed with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. 

A technician works with the landowner to devise a grazing plan and a series of practices and enhancements to promote range health and wildlife habitat. For example, the plan may stipulate times of the year when haying and grazing are not allowed, and there can be cost share opportunities through FSA for enhancements such as water development, prescribed fire and fuel breaks in the plan. 

In addition, as part of the Wyoming-USDA Big Game Partnership, for the first time, producers can combine Grassland CRP with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to improve range health. 

Example conservation practices provided through EQIP include wildlife-friendly fence conversion, invasive weed treatments, aspen regeneration, brush management, range planting and wet meadow restoration.  

Founded in 2012, WLA is a landowner-led organization dedicated to keeping the private and working lands of the West whole and healthy for people and wildlife. WLA’s mission is to advance policies and practices to sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species.

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