USDA and Wyo agree on protecting habitat for migratory animals

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The Department of Agriculture and the State of Wyoming today announced a set of conservation measures to protect migratory big game habitat.

The USDA said it would initially spend $15 million through existing conservation programs to prevent agricultural land development and put private lands under multi-year contracts to maintain big game habitat.

Robert Bonnie, USDA Undersecretary for Agricultural Production and Conservation, announced the arrangement at the University of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park 150th Anniversary Symposium in Cody, Wyo.

“Conserving America’s most iconic wildlife and wildlife migration corridors depends on conserving private working lands and tribal lands through voluntary, collaborative incentives that reward farmers, ranchers, and forest owners for the management of their land,” Bonnie said in a news release, adding that the agreement came after conversations with state officials and local organizations.

The effort is a pilot project aimed at encouraging conservation on large tracts of private land that might otherwise be developed for uses not compatible with migratory game. The department said lessons learned from the experience could be applied more broadly across the West as part of the Biden administration’s conservation agenda.

Among other practices, the money could be used to ensure that fencing used on working farmland is compatible with migrating animals, the department said. Restoring wet meadows, removing invasive woods and restoring degraded aspen stands are other examples, the USDA said.

Conservation groups in Wyoming hailed the initiative.

“People react to market signals. Right now, if you’re a landowner in Wyoming, the two market signals you’re getting are pushing you toward wind and residential development,” Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, said in a statement. Press release. “If we want conservation, there has to be a market signal for conservation.”

The USDA said the agreement will utilize programs such as the grassland provisions of the conservation reserve program, the environmental quality incentive program and the agricultural conservation easement program.

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