Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Groups join to protect sagebrush habitat

Lava Lake, Nature Conservancy preserve 4,500 acres


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

More than 4,500 acres of sagebrush habitat was added to the roster of protected ranchlands last week when The Nature Conservancy entered into a conservation easement agreement with Carey-based Lava Lake Lamb and Livestock.

"Lava Lake has an excellent land stewardship record," said Matt Miller, spokesman for the conservancy. "The easement just protects the land and the ecology for the future."

The two properties protected by easements are in the West Fork of Fish Creek drainage in the Pioneer Mountains. According to the conservancy, the area is an important habitat for sage grouse, pronghorn antelope, elk, mule deer and rare plants.

Landowner Brian Bean said the easements would benefit the ranch's livestock as well as native wildlife.

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"These lands are an important part of the forage base for our sheep operation," Bean said. "They [also] support significant cultural and natural values, including Native American sites."

The conservancy already holds easements on 7,500 acres of Lava Lake land, which protect the property from future development. Miller said the ranch's management of the land would likely change very little, as the easements only protect the land, not mandate habitat enhancement. Lava Lake already monitors the land's health closely, he said.

"They are innovative and looking at the condition of the land in addition to how productive it is," he said. "They are excellent conservation partners."

Miller said grazing would continue on the land, as the easements don't prohibit it.

"We believe that ranching and wildlife can coexist," he said. "We have a history of working with ranchers to benefit the local economy and wildlife."

Funding for the easements was provided in part by the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program, which provides federal funding for purchase of development rights. Additional funding came from the Duke Charitable Foundation and the landowner.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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