The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

USDA-Wyoming agreement: A new chapter in conservation history

When representatives from ranching, environment and sportsmen’s organizations gathered in Washington D.C. this week, it didn’t make national headlines — but it may have made a little history. In fact, those assembled for the signing of an agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the state of Wyoming hope it will open a new chapter in conservation in America.

On its face, it was simple. The USDA and Wyoming have agreed to work together on conserving Wyoming’s iconic big game migrations. Wyoming is home to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, where each summer millions of visitors enjoy watching elk, bison, moose, wolves, grizzly bears, and other wildlife. What few of those visitors realize, however, is that in the fall, many of those animals migrate out of the parks and onto surrounding private ranch lands where they spend the winter grazing on farm fields and pastures.

Thanks to wildlife conservation and management efforts over the past several decades, elk, wolf and grizzly populations have expanded throughout the region. Scientists have also documented some of the longest wildlife corridors in North America in the state of Wyoming. Mule deer, elk and pronghorn travel hundreds of miles twice each year between summer and winter range.

Wildlife advocates have worked hard to find ways to protect these migration paths and wildlife from housing and energy development, and to remove fences and install highway crossings to ensure these animals can get where they need to go.

While private landowners and agricultural producers appreciate wildlife, they bear a disproportionate cost in providing the food and shelter wildlife need. Those costs can threaten to sink the already tenuous agricultural businesses of private farms and ranches. Elk, for example, compete with livestock to forage, they also carry disease, knock down fencing and attract predators. When ranches and farms go out of business, the land is often sold into development. This, in turn, means much less habitat is available to wildlife.

A vicious cycle is underway. The more farms and ranches fold into development, the more pressure is put on those remaining to provide habitat for wildlife.

The environmental movement has relied heavily on regulation to protect wildlife and other environmental values. Too much regulation, however, only increases the downward economic pressure on working lands, accelerating the downward spiral.

This is why the agreement between the USDA and the state of Wyoming is significant. It recognizes the key role that working lands play in sustaining wildlife and brings a suite of solutions forward, including funding for conservation easements, fencing improvements and long-term habitat leases that compensate for a portion of the producer’s costs in supplying forage under a grazing plan compatible with wildlife.

The future of conservation will inevitably center on private and working lands, which are essential to the survival of both people and wildlife. Success will depend on the kind of cooperation and win-win solutions shown by the agreement between USDA and Wyoming this week. In a highly polarized world, this kind of cooperation takes political courage and leadership. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) should be commended for lighting a path forward together.

Lesli Allison is the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance and was previously ranch manager of a large ranch in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado for 16 years.

Tags Agriculture Conservation national parks USDA wildlife Wyoming Yellowstone National Park

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video