Thanks to a first-of-its-kind conservation bank restricting energy development across a large swath of central Wyoming land, the greater sage-grouse can breathe a little easier.
Working with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Wyoming enacted a conservation bank to protect the greater sage-grouse habitat. According to the DOI, the conservation bank sets aside a vast expanse of central Wyoming for sage-grouse and other habitat, including mule deer and other wildlife. As such, the land parcel will restrict energy development, as well as other economic activities.
A conservation bank is a site or suite of sites established under an agreement with the FWS to protect and, where feasible, improve habitat for species. Entities can purchase credits that result from perpetual conservation easements and conservation projects on the land to offset impacts occurring elsewhere.
According to the DOI, the Pathfinder Ranch, a 235,000-acre cattle ranch located west of Casper near Pathfinder Reservoir, provides significant wildlife habitat for the greater sage-grouse and other native species.
Originally purchased for wind energy development, the project was converted to a conservation bank and deeded to the newly created Sweetwater Conservancy with the encouragement of former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who was in the process of building Wyoming's Core Area sage-grouse strategy. The conservation bank will launch with 55,000 deeded acres. As the demand grows, it could expand to 700,000 acres on other lands owned by the Conservancy.
‘Protecting the very best sage-grouse habitat is a vital part of the long-term conservation strategy for this bird and the hundreds of species that depend on healthy sagebrush ecosystems,’ says Dan Ashe, FWS director. ‘The Service is committed to continually exploring new and innovative ways to work with states, industry and private landowners to sustain sage-grouse populations and the vitality of rural communities across the West.’
In 2010, FWS determined that the greater sage-grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) but was precluded by higher priorities. Since then, broad-based coalition of stakeholders has come together across the bird's 165 million-acre, 11-state range to address threats in an effort to prevent the need for a listing. Market-based mitigation tools such as conservation banks – and the financial incentives they provide – are valuable for conserving the habitat required for abundant, well-distributed sage-grouse populations.
Most of the Sweetwater River Conservancy Conservation Bank is classified as core sage-grouse habitat by the state of Wyoming, a designation applied to areas of the highest sage-grouse populations. In addition to sage-grouse, the conservancy will manage the property for the benefit of other wildlife and for promoting improved water quality and quantity on the property.