Wildlife thriving in Montana’s grasslands

Not all that long ago, state and federal agencies trying to improve wildlife habitat and preserve native grassland learned that it was cheaper to buy perpetual conservation easements than to buy real estate.

A conservation easement on private land costs about 30 percent of the full market value of the property, said Gary Sullivan, state realty coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"This dramatically lower cost enables the service to protect large blocks of grassland through easements," literature from the Fish and Wildlife Service said. "Conservation on this scale would not be possible if the land had to be purchased. In addition, operation and management costs of easements on private lands are significantly lower than those required for service-owned lands."

Of The Gazette Staff

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Keeping grasslands intact

Star-Tribune staff writer

Eastern Wyoming grasslands are not really suitable for conversion to croplands as on other parts of the Great Plains, which means the state’s grasslands still exist across relatively large, intact landscapes.

That’s why Wyoming plays such a key role in the recovery of endangered, threatened or declining species such as the swift fox, burrowing owls and black-tailed prairie dogs when other Great Plains states don’t.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials recognize, however, this probably will not always be the case.

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Land buys by nonprofit conservation groups concern locals

Of The Gazette Staff
Easements aren’t the only conservation measures viewed with alarm.

Phillips County Commission Chairman Troy Blunt admits he’s worried about nonprofit conservation groups’ purchases of big chunks of ranch land in his rural north-central Montana county.

"No one is sure what they are trying to preserve," he said of land acquired in the past few years by the Nature Conservancy and the American Prairie Foundation. "They’re trying to preserve what’s already there. The ranchers have been preserving it for the last 100 years."

The conservation groups maintain they are saving the land from developers and rich out-of-state hunters, he said.
"I’m not sure I buy that argument," Blunt countered.

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