Historic Wyoming ranch protects operation with easement

2012-01-26T00:00:00Z Historic Wyoming ranch protects operation with easementBy MARTIN KIDSTON mkidston@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. — One of the oldest ranches in Wyoming held by a single family has agreed to a conservation easement that will protect more than 10,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat.

Budd Ranches Inc., owned by brothers Chad and Brian Espenscheid and located near Big Piney in Sublette County, joined the Conservation Fund in creating the easement to protect the historic property.

Luke Lynch, Wyoming state director for the Conservation Fund, said the new easement allows the family to continue its ranching operation while protecting Green River Valley wildlife habitat from future development.

Financial details of the agreement were not released.

“We chose to work on this easement because of the confluence of wildlife values and the large scale of the project,” Lynch said Wednesday shortly after the deal was announced.

“It’s a complicated strategy, but together with the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust and other partners, we designed a unique conservation plan to protect the land and accomplish the landowners’ goals.”

The ranch lies between Grand Teton and the Upper Green River Valley, a key migration corridor used by pronghorn, moose, elk and mule deer. The property also provides wetland habitat for various bird species.

Lynch said that over the past five years, the Conservation Fund and area ranching families have helped conserve more than 25,000 acres of private land in the Upper Green.

But the group also has turned its focus to other threatened landscapes in Wyoming, including the Absaroka-Beartooth Front and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem on the western slope of the Bighorn Basin.

About a year ago, Lynch said, the Conservation Fund worked with a Meteetsee family to conserve a 14,000-acre ranch that holds many of the same values as the Espenscheid ranch in Big Piney.

“What’s been protected as parks and national forests isn’t a complete picture for wildlife,” Lynch said. “These private ranches typically occupy lower-elevation lands that have key habitat and water.”

Lynch has known the Espenscheid brothers and their parents, Gary and Nancy, for more than a decade. Like many conservation projects, he said, the family contacted the Conservation Fund, looking for ways to protect their operation from the pressures of development.

Such agreements are voluntary, he said.

“They called me up and said they wanted to figure this out,” Lynch said. “They’re very familiar with conservation easements. It couldn’t be a better family to work with. They care about their land deeply.”

The Espenscheid family can trace its Wyoming roots back to 1879, when Daniel Budd inherited a cattle herd and settled along Piney Creek.

His son, John, established the family’s first homestead ranch in 1905, about nine miles west of town. Over the next 100 years, the family bought up neighboring properties to expand its operation.

Today, Budd Ranches Inc. is owned and managed by brothers Chad and Brian Espenscheid and wives Gudrid and Annie.

In a statement Wednesday, the family said the easement will help the ranch achieve its goals by preventing the dilution of agricultural land due to generational splits. It also will allow the operation to grow, enabling the family to pass a viable business on to the next generation.

“Some ranching families in the Upper Green are beginning to see and realize that we’re finally reaching a critical mass of conserved land,” Lynch said. “They can look across their fence and know that their neighbors aren’t going to subdivide or develop.”

Lynch said the Conservation Fund acquired the easements with funding from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.

Matching funds were provided by the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, the Jonah Interagency Mitigation Office, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Knobloch Family Foundation, among others.

Lynch said the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust will be responsible for the long-term stewardship of the easements.

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