Sage Grouse Oversight Team Approves Funding for 44 Ranch

PRESS RELEASE November 18, 2016 (Helena, Mont.) – Montana’s Sage Grouse Oversight Team (MSGOT) gave final approval today to grant funds to The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) to purchase a conservation easement on the 44 Ranch near Winnett. The 18,033-acre conservation easement will be purchased with funds from the Montana Sage Grouse Stewardship Fund and a private grant from The Conservation Fund. The Delaney family, owners of the 44 Ranch will also donate significant easement value to complete the project.

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The 44 Ranch conservation easement is the first of its kind to be approved under the Montana Sage Grouse Stewardship Act, which became law in 2015. The law, championed by Governor Bullock, is designed to protect and enhance sage grouse habitat and create “mitigation credits” to be purchased on an open market. Developers and any sort of public or private entity wishing to operate in sage grouse habitat areas and thus causing some disturbance, will have to purchase the credits and reimburse the fund prior to operating. Conservation and livestock groups, as well as natural resource developers supported the law. The ultimate goal is to demonstrate voluntary, state-based solutions to declining sage grouse populations and therefore holding off a federal listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

The 44 Ranch, in Fergus and Petroleum counties, is a multi-generational cattle ranch that has been family owned and operated since the 1940’s. Owner Mike Delaney praised the effort: “This easement ensures the sustainability and succession of the ranch. We’d like to thank The Montana Land Reliance, the State, and The Conservation Fund for making it happen. Hopefully this will encourage other landowners to protect and preserve their ranches.”

Kendall Van Dyk, MLR’s eastern manager added, “What made this project work is the same thing that has kept MLR in business for almost 40 years—a recognition that conservation success hinges on creating a product that works for Montana’s ranching families. In addition to an easement that helps keep ranching families on the ground, we’re thrilled to be part of the solution that will conserve sage grouse habitat in an incredibly substantial way.”

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and land trust, such as The Montana Land Reliance, that limits certain uses of that land in order to protect its conservation values. The 44 Ranch conservation easement limits property divisions, construction, and certain ranch related activities within 0.6 miles of any active sage grouse lek. The easement also prohibits cropland conversion or “sod busting” on the 44 Ranch.

MLR works with private landowners to permanently protect agricultural lands, fish and wildlife habitat, and open space. It is the largest single-state land trust in the country, and has protected nearly 1,000,000 acres in Montana.

The Conservation Fund works to create solutions that make environmental and economic sense, The Fund is redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, The Conservation Fund has worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 7.8 million acres of land.