Wyoming Big Game Conservation Partnership Pilot

USDA is now accepting applications from Wyoming agricultural producers for assistance through the new Big Game Conservation Partnership. Signups are open for opportunities through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (Grassland CRP). Through this partnership with the State of Wyoming, USDA is investing additional, dedicated funds in Wyoming for big game conservation, adding additional staffing and streamlining processes for producers.

Conservation Programs

USDA is supporting this partnership with a focused application of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (Grassland CRP). USDA provides support for habitat leasing through a combination of EQIP and CRP, with opportunities for partners to contribute resources. Through this partnership, USDA programs work in a complementary way to support big game conservation. The implementation of these programs is prioritized based on areas identified by Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Tribal leaders on the Wind River Indian Reservation to be of particular benefit to big game.

  • ACEP assists producers who want to protect sensitive landscapes and prime farmlands from conversion to non-compatible land uses such as residential subdivision through establishment of long-term conservation easements.
  • EQIP focuses on integrating practices on working lands, such as prescribed grazing systems, wildlife-friendly fencing, and cheatgrass control.
  • Grassland CRP is used to provide participating landowners with 10- or 15-year contracts in exchange for continued management of sustainable grassland habitats.

USDA has expanded compatibility among these programs to streamline delivery to farmers and ranchers and will continue to do so.

Project Location

The pilot is open to producers in Wyoming statewide, but there are several priority areas where big game migrations are known to be prevalent, especially in Carbon, Hot Springs, Lincoln, Park, Sublette, Sweetwater, Fremont and Teton counties (see map below). Contact your local USDA Service Center to discuss how your property aligns with these priority areas.
Wyoming Big Game Project Areas

How to Apply

NRCS accepts applications year-round, but producers should apply by their state's ranking dates to be considered for funding in the current cycle. Funding is provided through a competitive process. If you apply after the program ranking date, NRCS will automatically consider your application during future funding cycles.

Grassland CRP
Wyoming producers interested in Grassland CRP should apply by May 26, 2023.

To apply or learn more, producers should contact your local USDA Service Center.

About the Partnership

The partnership was formalized in October 2022, and it leverages and compliments other ongoing conservation efforts on working lands such as those conducted under the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) Framework for Conservation Action in the Great Plains Grasslands and Sagebrush Biome, unveiled last year by USDA. Both efforts emphasize a commitment to voluntary, incentive-based approaches; identifies and elevates the critical role of private, working lands; and stresses the importance of supporting state, tribal, and landowners to advance their conservation priorities. The pilot also further focuses FSA’s commitment to assisting producers in protecting and maintaining grasslands through grazing and for supporting plant and animal biodiversity within National Priority Zones.

Working Lands for Wildlife is NRCS’ approach that has enabled more than 8,400 producers across the United States to conserve 12 million acres of prime wildlife habitat since 2010. This approach has had ample success in the West, where it has focused on protecting working lands from exurban development, removing invasive weeds and invading conifers, reducing wildfire risk, and protecting wetlands. Resulting conservation actions played a key role in the no-list decisions for the gopher tortoise, greater sage-grouse, Bi-State sage-grouse, and New England cottontail as well as the delisting of the Louisiana black bear.

The Importance of Protecting Big Game Migration Corridors

For generations, wildlife biologists, ranchers, sportsmen, and Tribes have known that many large ungulate populations in Wyoming and throughout the West migrate from summer to winter range to optimize forage quality and decrease seasonal risks associated with certain habitats. Migratory herds possess a special ecological, cultural, and economic importance to surrounding communities, and depend on a variety of land ownerships throughout each year.

Over the course of their annual migrations, many animals depend on private and tribally owned working lands for forage and for shelter from deep snow.

USDA has a flexible suite of tools available to support voluntary conservation and is uniquely positioned to conserve seasonal ranges of migratory big game where they intersect these working lands. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) has been working closely with the State of Wyoming and its many partners to develop an approach where existing Farm Bill programs are strategically implemented in a way that maximizes benefits to both migratory ungulates and the working lands that support them.

The Importance of Grasslands to Climate, Biodiversity and Communities

Importantly, these efforts are helping landowners keeping grasslands intact. One out of every three acres in the Continental United States are grasslands, with 90% located in the West. These are places like the Great Plains and the Sagebrush Sea where grazing animals, both domestic and wild, roam through grasses and shrubs. Grasslands are the backbone of the beef industry, and they support rural communities, wildlife habitat, and recreation.

These wide-open grazing lands also hold 12% of all terrestrial carbon on our planet, most of it stored deep beneath the soil. Unfortunately, grassland ecosystems are the most imperiled on Earth. In the United States, a million acres per year are lost to make way for row-crops and subdivisions. Conserving working grasslands and shrublands is critical to USDA’s climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

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