This guest column responds to a story published Jan. 3 by WyoFile, “Ranch owner builds in Path of Pronghorn,” by reporter Angus M. Thuermer, Jr. In their remarks Jackson Hole Land Trust Board Chairman Pete Lawton and President Laurie Andrews discuss and defend their “decision to work with a landowner partner to find a solution to a conservation easement violation” by the landowner. WyoFile stands by its reporting of the matter — Ed.
Angus Thuermer writes a compelling headline, however, there is more to the story. There are additional considerations and facts not discussed in the article that are important for readers to know.
As stewards, we at the Jackson Hole Land Trust have to evaluate impact versus offset, while recognizing and weighing potential effects decisions have on conservation easement values. The Path of the Pronghorn remains incredibly valuable to us, particularly in this area, and we will continue our work to protect the migration corridors of all wildlife as we have done historically. With the amended 115-acre easement, the Land Trust found a net-gain for wildlife, for the Path of the Pronghorn, and for the future connectivity of protected lands in Western Wyoming.
Amendment process and commitment to conservation
It is necessary to accurately and thoroughly discuss the Land Trust’s amendment process and policies to understand our commitment to conservation outcomes, and to highlight specifically that the Land Trust does not allow for amendments to occur without a significant net gain for conservation.
This is truly the case for the additional acreage at DC Bar Ranch, which protects over seven times as much land, is of greater conservation value to the wider region, and safeguards the Path of the Pronghorn at its most constrained and narrowest southern portion (also referred to as “the Funnel”) than the location of the building envelope.
This case is an example of two land trusts working together as one, while upholding strong land protection policies and simultaneously maintaining a positive relationship with the landowner. During the discovery of the infraction and throughout the amendment process, the landowner and proposed amendment withstood extra scrutiny because of the recent merger of the two land trusts.
Both the Green River Valley Land Trust board and the Jackson Hole Land Trust board had to reach an agreement on the terms of the proposed amendment which was only approved due to its significantly increased conservation values. The amendment process review in this case was doubly thorough and consistent with what the Land Trust does for every landowner and every request.
The conservation offset of the new 115 acres of land at DC Bar Ranch within the Path of the Pronghorn route and habitat area is an overall conservation win. The proposed amendment connects conserved properties to BLM land which abuts the Bridger-Teton National Forest, offering ecological connectivity to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and extinguishing three potential home sites and subdivisions. It lies roughly one mile from the Green River, and features healthy, regenerative aspen communities, and is frequented by a variety of mammals, including moose, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, grizzlies, and wolves, as well as neotropical migratory songbirds.
The 115 additional acres fall in a higher priority area of the Funnel, which, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, has been highly impacted by subdivision and residential construction. The amendment will relieve pressure placed on the more constrained portion of the Path of the Pronghorn, and guarantee open space for pronghorn to migrate. In contrast, the 15-acre building envelope at the Cline Cabin falls in a two-mile wide section of the path.
John Lund, Pinedale Regional Wildlife Supervisor of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, made these comments about the new 115-acre conservation property:
“As we monitor the Path of the Pronghorn and learn more about this historic migration route, we understand the impacts that development and other man-made obstructions can have on the pronghorns’ ability to move freely from the Wind River Range to the Tetons. Conservation efforts that help limit development in areas where development exists and threatens to grow are especially critical to keeping the Path of the Pronghorn open and fluid.
“The additional 115 acres of land protected by the Green River Valley Program of the Jackson Hole Land Trust at the DC Bar Ranch has significant benefits to the health of the migration route as the new easement extinguishes development in an area along the Path of the Pronghorn that is already constrained by existing subdivisions and threatened by further development potential.”
Wildlife migration corridors, including the Path of the Pronghorn, are paramount to the JHLT. The JHLT continues to protect and connect precious wildlife habitat areas in Western Wyoming.