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) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). 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.

2022 Investments

This year, NRCS is investing $6 million in additional EQIP assistance and $10 million through ACEP in Wyoming for big game conservation. EQIP focuses on integrating practices on working lands, such as prescribed grazing systems and cheatgrass control. 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. In addition, producers will also be able to sign up for a habitat lease through the Grassland CRP program in early 2023.

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).

 

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USDA is focusing on using voluntary and incentive-based programs to target assistance on the following:

  • Agricultural Land Protection: NRCS is investing an additional $10 million dollars in ACEP funding to use towards permanent conservation easements on important habitats within migration corridors.
  • Restoration, Enhancement, and Management: NRCS is investing an additional $6 million dollars in EQIP funding to prioritize practices that restore and manage habitats migrating big game need. Some examples include fence conversion, invasive species treatments, aspen regeneration, and wet meadow restoration.
  • Habitat Leases: USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will utilize the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (G-CRP) to provide up to 15 years of development protection for other properties while still allowing other compatible uses.

While NRCS accepts applications for programs on an ongoing basis, to be considered for the next funding cycles, producers should submit EQIP applications by November 23, 2022, and ACEP applications by November 23, 2022, and January 18, 2023.

To apply or learn more, producers should contact NRCS at their local USDA Service Center or the NRCS Wyoming State Office.

Habitat Leasing through the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program

Following the EQIP and ACEP signups, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will offer a Habitat Lease through the FY23 Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup, which will provide another option for Wyoming ranchers and producers. FSA will announce signup dates soon. Grassland CRP is a working lands program, helping producers and landowners to protect grassland over a 10- to 15-year contract while enabling haying and grazing activities to continue.

As part of this Habitat Lease pilot, USDA has developed special guidance that allows better compatibility between USDA programs, enabling producers to stack different Farm Bill program benefits in ways that fit their specific requirements.

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’s (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 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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