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USDA Announces New Investments for Big Game Migrations in Wyoming with Plans to Expand West Wide
The U.S. Department of the Agriculture (USDA) will be expanding investments through a new pilot program to support conservation and restoration of big game migration corridors and seasonal ranges on private lands in Wyoming. On May 20, Under Secretary Robert Bonnie announced that the department was prioritizing investments for voluntary conservation efforts on working landscapes in the state. The department has had extensive engagement with local stakeholders that helped to develop the pilot program; using lessons learned from the Wyoming pilot, the department plans to scale the model up across the West. Bonnie made the announcement during remarks at the Yellowstone National Park 150th Symposium in Cody.
“Conserving America’s most iconic wildlife and wildlife migration corridors depends on the conservation of private working lands and tribal lands through voluntary, collaborative incentives that reward farmers, ranchers and forest owners for stewardship of their lands,” said Bonnie, USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. “Today’s announcement results from consultation with the State of Wyoming and local stakeholders to create new and enhanced opportunities through USDA’s conservation programs to expand our work with farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to conserve wildlife and migration corridors and to keep working lands working.”
The pilot program will tap into several existing Farm Bill programs and USDA is committing an initial $15 million, including funding for restoration, enhancement, and management of working lands through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to support healthy habitat, as well as funding for agricultural land protection through the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP). In addition, funding will be available for habitat conservation leases through 10- to 15-year contracts under the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program to manage working lands to ensure the resiliency of desired habitat conditions for migrating big game. The effort in Wyoming builds on the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife approach that has been effective for greater sage-grouse and has expanded to biome-scale wildlife conservation frameworks.
“Wyoming leads the nation in our approaches to conserving big game and their movements. We’ve done that with strong landowner partnerships and an acknowledgement that habitat conservation can be done on multi-use landscapes,” said Brian Nesvik, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “Private landowners provide key habitat for wildlife seen in Yellowstone National Park. Offering voluntary funding opportunities to landowners to maintain this valuable space for wildlife is a recognition of their role in conservation.”
The announcement shows an increased commitment by USDA, joining the Department of the Interior’s efforts in implementing Secretary’s Order 3362.