Wyoming family secures 113-year-old ranching tradition with conservation easement
SUBLETTE COUNTY, WY – The Conservation Fund Jan. 26 the conservation and expansion of one of the oldest operating ranches held by one family in the Green River Valley. A conservation easement will permanently protect the natural resources of more than 10,000 acres across two homestead ranches owned by the Espenscheid family near the town of Big Piney, WY. The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust (WSGALT) will be responsible for the long-term stewardship of the easements.
The Budd-Espenscheid family can date their Wyoming roots back to 1879, when Daniel B. Budd inherited a herd of cattle and settled along the Piney Creeks, where Big Piney is currently located. In 1905, his son John established the family’s first homestead ranch approximately nine miles west of town. Over the next century, the family purchased additional neighboring properties and expanded their ranching operations. Today, Budd Ranches, Inc. is owned and managed by brothers Chad and Brian Espenscheid and their wives Gudrid and Annie, the family’s fourth generation of ranchers.
“The Espenscheid brothers approached The Conservation Fund with a bold vision to significantly expand their ranch’s size by purchasing the neighboring ranch and funding the purchase with the sale of a conservation easement on both properties,” said Luke Lynch, Wyoming state director for The Conservation Fund. “It’s a complicated strategy, but together with WSGALT and other partners, we rose to the challenge and designed a unique conservation plan to protect the land and accomplish the landowners’ goals.”
This land preservation agreement will not only enable the Espenscheid Family to continue its ranching operations, it also protects important wildlife habitat in the Green River Valley. The property provides thousands of acres of crucial wintering ranges and migration corridors for pronghorn, mule deer, moose and elk as well as important wetland habitats for songbirds, shorebirds and numerous aquatic species. In addition, approximately 15 miles of streams, including several miles of North Piney Creek – an important tributary of the Green River that provides spawning habitat for the Colorado River cutthroat trout – have been secured.
Brian Espenscheid stated: “Along with 100-plus years of previous generations ‘working it out, figuring it out and sticking it out,’ this easement helped us to achieve our goals of not only preventing the often inevitable dilution of agricultural lands due to generational splits but to expand our operation to the point that we will have an opportunity to pass on economically viable agricultural businesses to our young children.”
“The conservation of private ranch and farm lands through voluntary conservation easements held by local, private land trusts is the most effective and efficient use of limited public dollars for habitat conservation,” said Pamela Dewell, Executive Director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust. “When we can also help facilitate the generational transfer of Wyoming’s working ranches, preserve our agricultural heritage and inject dollars into our rural communities too, it’s a grand slam.”
The Conservation Fund acquired easements on both properties with funding from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), a federal program managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that provides matching funds for the purchase of agricultural easements on land. The matching funds were provided by the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT), the Jonah Interagency Mitigation Office, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Knobloch Family Foundation and other private donors.
“The Natural Resources Conservation Service was thrilled to be able to once again partner with The Conservation Fund to conserve, in perpetuity, a large working ranch,” said Xavier Montoya, NRCS State Conservationist. “Thanks to the foresight of pro-active producers and our tremendous conservation partners, we’re beginning to conserve entire watersheds that provide important sage-grouse habitat and critical winter range for our big-game herds. Above all, these efforts ensure that our ranching families can continue to provide those and many other natural resource benefits to Wyoming.”
“As Wyomingites we cherish our open spaces, wildlife habitat and ranching heritage, and this important project further fulfills the mission of the Wyoming Wildlife & Natural Resource Trust – to enhance and conserve wildlife habitat and natural resource values throughout the state,” said Steve Meadows, district 9 board member for the WWNRT. “I’m proud that we could participate.”
“The Budd-Espenscheid family’s continued dedication to holistic resource management practices that improve the health of their land has served as a model to other ranchers in the Upper Green River Valley,” said Eric G. Decker, project coordinator for Jonah and Pinedale Anticline Interagency Office. “We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this effort and hope that other ranching families aspiring to conserve their working lands and enhance the protection of important wildlife habitat will be encouraged by this success.”
The Conservation Fund and a host of partners launched an initiative in 2008 to conserve and enhance key wildlife habitat and agricultural lands in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Valley. To date, The Conservation Fund has worked with numerous public and private partners to conserve and enhance over 25,000 acres of private land in the Green River Valley.