The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust announce a unique collaboration focusing on the permanent conservation of private lands in the upper North Platte Valley in Wyoming and North Park in Colorado. Funding from the Gates Family Foundation and the Gates Frontiers Fund initiate a pool of dollars to help cover the costs of conserving the highly productive lands embracing the headwaters of the North Platte River where it traverses the state boundary.

“Our land trusts continue to receive increasing interest in both the donation and sale of conservation easements in the North Platte Valley and North Park and, despite unprecedented levels of public funding through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, it is a huge challenge to raise required matching funds and dollars for transaction costs,” Pamela Dewell, Stock Growers Ag Land Trust Executive Director, said. “The Gates Family Foundation and Frontiers Fund have recognized that their investment will make a critical difference.”

The Gates Family Foundation and Frontiers Fund are providing dollars to cover the costs of purchased conservation easement transactions, matching funds required by other funding sources and project support.

“These dollars will also facilitate a revolving loan fund which can help landowners cover the costs of appraisals, attorneys and other due diligence required in the completion of a conservation easement,” Chris West, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director, said. “And, thanks to this support, both land trusts can now re-grant funds to cover the costs associated with donated conservation easements which protect working family ranches for future generations.”

The Gates Family Foundation has promoted self-sufficiency, excellence and innovation in Colorado communities since 1946. Stewardship of natural resources is central to the Foundation’s mission, and protection of land and water are primary interests. The Gates Frontiers Fund mission states they exist “to venture with organizations or projects that can have significant impact, are entrepreneurial and creative by design, comprehensive in approach and outcomes, and characterized by excellent leadership, clear mission, accountability and commitment to a better quality of life.”

“North Park and the North Platte Valley are remarkable areas which remain largely intact,” Thomas Gougeon, Gates Family Foundation President, said. “We see great potential to respond to the growing interests of private landowners who wish to protect their properties and contribute to the conservation of this spectacular landscape and its ranching heritage and culture.”

The North Platte is a significant river when it crosses into Wyoming. It flows northward into a broad and productive agricultural valley around the towns of Encampment and Saratoga. It is enriched by the Encampment River and several large tributaries including Big, Brush, Cedar, Cow, Douglas, Jack, Pass, Sage and Spring Creeks. The North Platte River unites these two agricultural regions as well as downstream urban dwellers who value the area for water, recreation and scenic qualities as well as its value to agriculture.

“The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust has deep roots in the upper North Platte Valley,” Dewell said. “The area’s former family physician, Dr. John Lunt, was the catalyst for our organization’s founding and our first conservation easement was completed on Sheep Rock Ranch just outside Saratoga. Local organizations such as the Gretchen Swanson Family Foundation, George B. Storer Foundation and the Malone Family Land Preservation Fund provide critical support for our work there, as have many area individuals. We are very grateful for the community’s interest in private lands conservation.”

“In Colorado, the lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund (GOCO) has supported our increasing conservation success in North Park, where the North Platte River rises,” West said. “With its tributaries, the Canadian, Michigan, Illinois, Roaring Fork and Grizzly Creek, it sustains many spectacular working ranches in what is Colorado’s most intact mountain valley.”

The region is also within a “core area” for Greater Sage Grouse, which the Fish and Wildlife Service has placed on the list of candidate species under the Endangered Species Act. North Park contains the second largest and most stable population of Sage Grouse in Colorado. The Sage Grouse are very dependent upon the mix of sagebrush slopes and irrigated meadows provided on the working ranches of the region. Evidence suggests that fragmentation and destruction of these landscapes has contributed to the species’ decline. If current trends persist, many local populations may disappear, with the remaining fragmented population vulnerable to extinction. Listing of the sage grouse would have considerable repercussions for agricultural and energy resources and on the local and regional economy.

Founded by the premiere agricultural associations in their respective states, the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust and Colorado Cattleman’s Agricultural Land Trust are uniquely positioned to facilitate the conservation of working ranchlands and the preservation of the defining landscape that is provided by the headwaters of the North Platte watershed.  To date, the two land trusts have protected 309 working ranch properties covering 521,000 acres.