Sublette ranchers get boost to protect big-game corridors

Courtesy USDA

SUBLETTE COUNTY – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting applications from Wyoming agricultural producers for assistance through the new Big Game Conservation Partnership.

Signups are open for opportunities through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Through this partnership with the state of Wyoming, USDA is investing additional, dedicated funds in Wyoming for big game conservation, adding additional staffing and streamlining processes for producers.   

“Based on extensive feedback from the state of Wyoming and stakeholders, this partnership offers producers a package of opportunities they can choose from to meet their operations’ unique conservation needs,” said Andi Neugebauer, NRCS acting state conservationist in Wyoming. “We’re excited to be accepting applications for assistance through this new partnership that advances our commitment to support voluntary, locally led, producer-driven conservation efforts.”   

Opportunities

This year, NRCS will invest $6 million in additional EQIP assistance and $10 million in additional ACEP funding in Wyoming for big game conservation. EQIP focuses on integrating practices on working lands, such as prescribed grazing systems and cheatgrass control. ACEP assists producers who want to protect sensitive landscapes and prime farmlands from conversion to non-compatible land uses, such as residential subdivision, through establishment of long-term conservation easements.

In addition to these opportunities, producers can sign up for a habitat lease through the Grassland CRP program in early 2023.   

The pilot is open to producers in Wyoming statewide, with several priority areas where big game migrations are prevalent, especially in Carbon, Hot Springs, Lincoln, Park, Sublette, Sweetwater, Fremont and Teton counties.

Producers should submit EQIP applications to NRCS by Nov. 23 and ACEP applications by Nov. 23 and Jan. 18, 2023.  

To apply or learn more, contact NRCS district conservationist Jennifer Hayward at 307-367-2257, stop at the USDA Service Center in the Stromness Building, 1625 W. Pine St., Pinedale, or go to  HYPERLINK "https://www.farmers.gov/conservation/wildlife/migration-pilot"farmers.gov/conservation/wildlife/migration-pilot.   

Habitat leasing 

After the EQIP and ACEP signups, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will offer a habitat lease through the Fiscal Year 2023 Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup, another option for Wyoming ranchers and producers.

FSA will announce signup dates soon.

Grassland CRP is a working lands program, helping producers and landowners to protect grassland over a 10- to 15-year contract while enabling haying and grazing activities to continue.  

As part of this habitat lease pilot, USDA has developed special guidance for better compatibility between USDA programs, enabling producers to stack different Farm Bill program benefits in ways that fit their specific requirements.  

“Grassland CRP provides a unique opportunity for producers who want to effectively manage land for livestock and wildlife, all while providing meaningful conservation benefits,” said William Bunce, FSA state executive director in Wyoming. “We’re very excited that Grassland CRP will contribute to this important partnership, and we’ll have more information to share soon.”  

Background

The Big Game Conservation Partnership was announced in May and  HYPERLINK "https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/news/usda-formalizes-big-game-conservation-partnership-with-state-of-wyoming"formalized in October through an agreement signed by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. It leverages and complements other ongoing conservation efforts on working lands such as those conducted under the  HYPERLINK "http://www.wlfw.org/"Working Lands for Wildlife’s Framework for Conservation Action in the Great Plains Grasslands and Sagebrush Biome, unveiled last year by USDA.

Both efforts emphasize a commitment to voluntary, incentive-based approaches, identify and elevate the critical role of private working lands and stresses the importance of supporting state, tribal and landowners to advance their conservation priorities.

The pilot also further focuses FSA’s commitment to help producers protect and maintain grasslands through grazing and for supporting plant and animal biodiversity within national priority zones.  

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