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Conservation Easement Protects a Vital Stock Trail in Wyoming

Beartrap Meadows in the Big Horns will be enjoyed by future generations. Photo by Matt Wells, Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust.

Beartrap Meadows in the Big Horns will be enjoyed by future generations. Photo by Matt Wells, Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust.

Cattlemen, woolgrowers, anglers, hikers and hunters will continue to enjoy Beartrap Meadows in the Big Horns of Wyoming thanks to a conservation easement that will forever protect a stock trail used by many ranchers.

The project conserves part of a stock trail, or stock rest, in western Johnson County that has been used by agricultural producers for almost a century.

Located high in the southern Big Horn Mountains near the headwaters of Beartrap Creek, ranchers in the region rely on the area as a stopover for rest for their cattle and sheep while driving them to summer grazing pastures. More than 20,000 head of livestock travel the trail annually to take advantage of the area’s plentiful water and forage.

But the trail is not just for ranchers. According to landowner Bruce Pheasant, a rancher in Kaycee, Wyo., hundreds of recreational users enjoy the landscape each year, including its remarkable trout fishing.

Under the easement terms with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the land and the stock trail will be conserved in perpetuity in an easement through the former Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program. The 2014 Farm Bill merged this program with other NRCS easement programs to form the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

Through this easement, the Pheasant family will preserve the property in its current and historic use as a stock trail thanks to the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust with the support of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, NRCS, Johnson County Wool Growers, Johnson County Cattlemen and private donations.

The Pheasant family could have received money but chose not to go that route. A conservation easement reduces the market value of the land because the owner gives up the potential for full development. As a result, these conservation partners were able to make the easement a reality by contributing to a reduced purchase price.

In addition, the family has worked out an agreement with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department that allows the public to continue to fish on the property.

“It’s a little piece of paradise,” Pheasant said.  “The easement is going to help so many people in so many ways.”

Beartrap Meadows is about 30 miles from Kaycee. Wyo. The area was first settled by Pheasant’s grandfather in the early 1900s. Five generations of the Pheasant family have been involved in the sheep-ranching operation, with the sixth generation preparing to carry on the business.

“This land plays such a central role in so many peoples’ lives,” Pheasant said. “The conservation easement is not just for me or my family. It’s for everyone to enjoy.”

Added Dale Graves, president of the Johnston County Cattlemen: “Without it, moving livestock between these different drives and pastures would be very difficult if not impossible. For years, it has been a mainstay offering a place to water, graze and rest livestock that are on trail.”

The easement will prevent subdivision of the property, and it’s the starting point for most projects the land trust pursues. If the Pheasant family ever sold the property, the new owner couldn’t block off access for stock.

The area also provides breeding, nesting and brood-rearing habitat for sandhill cranes, Canada geese, mallards and other waterfowl. Plus, the area is home to red-tailed hawk, great horned owl and bald eagle, can often been seen there.

“It is not only a crossing for livestock, but a corridor for wildlife, a place to fish, and a place where at least one dude outfit offers summer rides,” said Wyoming State Treasurer Mark Gordon, who grew up on a ranch adjoining Beartrap Meadows.

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