A group led by The Conservation Fund has struck a deal to permanently protect 1,042 acres of sage grouse habitat on a working cattle ranch southwest of Daniel, WY, and improve habitat conditions on more than 25,000 acres of adjacent land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the fund said Wednesday.

The project is the first use of Jonah Interagency Office (JIO) oil and gas mitigation funds for permanent land conservation (see Daily GPI, Aug. 14, 2006). The Wyoming Game & Fish Department selected the site because it contains some of the highest quality sage grouse habitat in the Green River Valley — in a single visit more than 250 sage grouse were observed on the property, according to the fund.

The Conservation Fund worked with the Botur family, owners of Cottonwood Ranches, to place a conservation easement on their property. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that calls for the landowner to permanently restrict the type and amount of development that can occur on his or her property. Funding for the easement came from JIO mitigation funds, the Wyoming Wildlife & Natural Resources Trust and The Nature Conservancy, through a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for the support of Wyoming’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust will monitor and enforce the easement.

“Mitigating for the gas development and investing in agriculture and the local community is an important venture,” said Freddie Botur, owner of Cottonwood Ranches. “This project supports local agriculture and protects one of the unrecognized treasures of Sublette County.”

The property contains more than four miles of riparian and wetland habitat along Muddy Creek and is completely surrounded by public land. In addition to habitat for the sage grouse, the property also provides winter and yearlong habitat for pronghorn antelope, moose, mule deer and elk.

The BLM office in Wyoming held a lease sale for a package of properties in the Green River Basin’s Jack Morrow Hills on April 1 as part of a new management plan for the southwestern part of the state (see Daily GPI, March 31). Mineral leasing was postponed in the Jack Morrow Hills in 1997 after BLM determined that a new management plan had to be completed (see Daily GPI, June 20, 2007). Overall, the bimonthly federal oil and gas lease auction generated nearly $30.5 million for leasing rights and rental fees on parcels offered.

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