Program uniting wildlife and ranches expands to Idaho and Montana
In the summer, 10,000 to 20,000 elk live in the mountain wilderness of Yellowstone National Park. For the winter, they move to lower elevations, where they’re likely to forage on big swaths of private land.
“Those animals are going to be down in those lower ranching areas, right on those ranches, in those hay pastures and grazing pastures, by the thousands,” said Lesli Allison, the Chief Executive Officer of the Western Landowners Alliance, a conservation group that works with private landowners.
This, she said, means private land is key to protecting big game migratory routes. But these same lands, at the gateway to Yellowstone, face immense development pressure.
“When they sell and they go into development, the elk lose, the ranching community loses,” said Allison.
A pilot program that started in Wyoming last year aims to keep private ranches intact and open to migrating animals. Called the Big Game Partnership Pilot, it concentrates funding through existing U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs in areas important for animals. It also allows producers to stack funding from different programs.
With a $40 million investment, the voluntary incentive program is expanding into Idaho and Montana, too, the USDA announced in June.
Allison said landowners in those states are excited.
“There's been an overwhelming demand for easements from landowners and the funding has not kept up with demand in most of the states that we operate,” she said.
Funding is available for conservation easements, wildlife-friendly fences, specialized grazing management plans and leases for maintaining grasslands while still ranching.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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