Land Use Incentives and Programs to Conserve Wildlife Habitat on Privately Owned Land in the Greater Yellowstone Area
Authored by: Ragina Smith and Morgan Nichols
As the land immediately surrounding the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem experiences growth, both in terms of population and development, it becomes increasingly more important for private landowners to abide by similar conservation standards as their neighbors. Privately owned land contains some of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s most critical habit for biodiversity and migration, however, all too many critical areas are threatened by human development and impacts. Government actions such as the Endangered Species Act and land zoning laws succeed only in discouraging conservation efforts. Thus far, local governments, community groups, non-governmental agencies and private landowners have focused on three main methods of conserving wildlife on private land. The first is to control urban sprawl by encouraging cluster developments, growth boundaries, subdivision regulations and other growth management tools. The second is to encourage landowners to manage private lands for wildlife habitat by providing monetary incentives. The final conservation method has been the purchase and/or exchange of lands specifically with habitat conservation and management in mind.
Including three states, two national parks, seven national forests, and twenty-two counties, GYE represents some of the most critical habitat and some of the fastest growing areas in the countries. This map shows the GYE with their respective growth rates from 1990 to 1999.
What follows is a list of ‘Ideal’ land use incentives and programs we have identified to be the most important to conserve habitat. These programs and incentives are not necessarily in effect in the GYE, but exist elsewhere in the country, and could be implemented in the GYE with success.
Urban Sprawl – What can be done to mitigate impacts of land conversion on habitat?
The effects of urban sprawl on habitat have been known and documented for over a decade. We invite you to visit the Wildland development section of this website to learn more. As populations surrounding Yellowstone National Park grow, development spreads to areas of critical habitat and migration. This can lead to overuse of existing habitats, species declination and even extinction. Curbing urban sprawl is one of the three most concentrated efforts for wildlife and habitat conservation. Several specific growth management tools are listed as follows;
· Subdivision Regulations – Usually in the form of laws or ordinances, subdivision regulations ensure that land that is subdivided is done so at appropriate densities, and that critical agriculture, ranch or habitat land is not subdivided at all.
· Cluster Development – Along the same lines as Density Bonuses and Subdivision Regulations, tax incentives can be made to encourage cluster development, or development at a very high density over small land area. These cluster developments can provide for a “freckled” landscape rather that one whose entire area has been affected by development.
· Open Space Bonds – Communities can pass Open Space Bonds to direct tax monies towards the purchase of critical habitat.
Incentives for Conservation - What can be done to encourage landowners to manage private lands, ranches and ranchettes for the benefit of wildlife?
As development spreads across the GYE, it becomes increasingly important that not only lands owned by the government and governmental agencies are managed for the benefit of wildlife, but also the backyard of John Q. Taxpayer. Wildlife knows no political boundary, no ownership or property line, and Yellowstone National Park itself is not large enough to include all migration areas and critical habitat. As the far-sighted ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote in 1949,
“Even the National parks, which run up to a million acres each in size, have not been large enough to retain their natural predators, or to exclude animal diseases carried by livestock. Thus Yellowstone has lost is wolves and cougars, with the result that elk are ruining the flora, particularly on the winter range”. 
The frequency of human-wildlife interactions increases with each subdivision, as more and more humans move into land that once belonged to nature. All of the efforts that governments, landowners and conservation groups have made will have been for nothing if private landowners discourage wildlife on their lands. There are several alternatives for the encouragement of private landowners to manage private lands for the benefit of wildlife.
· Conservation Easements – A landowner may set aside a portion of their land as a conservation easement. Conservation easements may not be developed or used in any way that is not compliant with wildlife conservation. However, conservation easements may also allow for considerable property tax breaks. These are effective when a private landowner possesses a quantity of land which is either no longer needed or subdividing is in consideration. It is a way to keep the land in ownership, without losing money in the form of property tax.
· Subsidy Programs – Landowners may receive governmental subsidies for complying with strict management plans or allowing for recreation on private land holdings. GYE Example
· Hunting, Fishing and Recreation Alliances – Organizations such as Operation Stronghold and Ranching for Wildlife promote recreation on private lands. A hunter, fisher or other recreationist pays a yearly membership fee to recreate on a number of private lands. The owners of those lands receive a stipend from the organization to compensate for property damage and reduced privacy. This has been successful in encouraging landowners to manage habitats for fish, elk and other wildlife, thus increasing recreation opportunities. GYE Example
· Non-governmental Compensation – An example of non-governmental compensation includes the Wilderness Society. The Wilderness Society provides compensation to ranchers who lose livestock to wolves. If a ranch owner can provide proof of a livestock fatality due to wolf predation, the Wilderness Society will provide that owner with compensation equaling the market value of the animal killed. This gives some assurance to ranchers that they will not lose financially due to the reintroduction of wolves. Please see the Wolf section of this web site for more information on the reintroduction of wolves.
· Governmental Compensation / Federal Subsidies - Federal Subsidy Programs allocate millions of federal dollars, used to subsidize private landowners and encourage them to protect open space and wildlife habitat and become responsible stewards of their environmentally sensitive agricultural and forest lands
Land Acquisition and Exchange – What can be done to protect critical habitat?
· Land Purchases by Non-governmental Agencies – Conservation groups, not-for-profit organizations and other non-governmental agencies have made impressive steps towards habitat conservation with the purchase of thousands of acres of critical habitat. Examples include the Nature Conservancy and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. GYE Example
· Governmental Agencies – Rather than purchase lands, most public agencies trade lands with other agencies in order to consolidate the checkerboard pattern left over by America’s first railroads. Consolidating lands ensures that large areas are being managed uniformly.
· Private landowners – Many private landowners and citizens that can afford to have purchased large, contiguous tracks of land that increase habitat networks and decrease habitat fragmentation. These citizens include many influential celebrities such as Ted Turner and Rick Schroder. Ted Turner's property has the largest conservation easement in the nation (about 22,000 acres), which he has coordinated through the Nature Conservancy, located in the Gallatin Valley at the base of the Spanish Peaks. Additionally, he offers many grants to other private landowners through the "Turner Foundation" to be put towards habitat preservation. To learn more about Ted Turner’s contribution please see www.turnerfoundation.org/turner/.
The striking fact that has been discovered in the writing of this site, is that many incentive tools and programs do not exist in the GYE. Many programs that do exist are still in an infancy stage, and hold little influence over practices on private lands. Due to efforts of governmental agencies, wildlife is largely seen as a liability and a nuisance, and private landowners are finding it much easier to sterilize the land than to comply with wildlife standards. The Endangered Species Act for example may protect many endangered and threatened species in the United States, but it also holds landowners financially responsible for species found on their land. Many landowners are finding it easier and cheaper to plow their land under, ensuring no endangered species would ever want to live there, than to comply with ESA regulations. ESA regulations do however provide funds for the protection of endangered species that may move onto private lands while under private ownership, thereby not punishing landowners for improving habitat such that they attract endangered species. Many governmental zoning laws however do not, and discourage landowners from permitting wildlife on their land. This occurs when landowners are penalized by the government for improving habitat. “Dayton Hyde, [creator of Operation Stronghold], experienced such a problem after putting 25 percent of his ranch into marshes for wildlife, initiating research on the sandhill crane, and building a lake with three and a half miles of shore line for wildlife”2. After creating all of this, government inspectors determined he possessed critical riparian habitat on his property, and rezoned his land to disallow development and other rights, decreasing the value of his property. Essentially, Mr. Hyde was penalized for creating and maintain habitat, which discouraged his neighbors from doing the same.
Another reason for discouraging wildlife is the possibility for improving recreation on private land. If a rancher improves stream habitat by keeping cattle away from stream banks, he may increase fish numbers, but he may also increase the numbers of fisherman on his land. Unless the benefits outweigh the costs, private landowners are unlikely to allow this recreation on their land. With liability for the trespassers, lack of privacy, destruction by recreationists of their lands and holdings and danger to their primary livelihood, most ranchers, farmers and other private landowners are unlikely to desire recreationists on their lands. Many programs such as Ranching for Wildlife, Operation Stronghold, and Private Ranchers of Montana Inc. provide liability insurance, a regular stipend from membership fees, and enforcement of strict rules including gate closing, abiding by closed areas, and trash pick-up. These incentives help landowners to offset the negatives of allowing for recreation, and encourage them to begin managing for recreation by increasing wildlife numbers. These programs have gone far to make wildlife management more attractive to private landowners, but the liabilities and the deterrents still outweigh the benefits for private landowners in the GYE.
Actual World – Land Use Incentives and Programs Currently in Use in GYE
This section introduces a few key habitat conservation programs defined earlier in the “Ideal World” section that are currently in place in the GYE. Several short case studies have been included to illustrate representative participants and their resulting successes.
Gallatin County, Montana is the most active region participating in citizen self-zoning districts. More detailed program information can be acquired directly from their website. Additional active planning offices include Flathead and Yellowstone Counties.
Gallatin County is one of the highest development growth areas in the state of Montana. Currently, there are no countywide zoning policies in place. As a result, private landowners have taken the lead in preserving their natural resources and wildlife habitat by establishing citizen petitioned zoning districts. A district can be created when 60% of the property owners in a designated area agree to zone. In Gallatin County there are currently 16 of these districts, the boundaries of which are established by geographic and political determinants. The three most successful districts in this region are Spring Hill, Middle Cottonwood, and Bridger Canyon. Each is listed below with their different planning goals.
· Spring Hill District – This plan was designed around agriculture and rural preservation. To preserve habitat, resident density is kept at one home per 160 acres.
· Middle Cottonwood District – This plan was designed to protect mule deer winter range. Resident density varies throughout the district, dependent upon where it is located within the range. (click here to view Middle Cottonwood’s zoning regulations document.)
· Bridger Canyon District – This plan was designed to preserve outdoor recreation opportunities. Resident density varies. (click here to view Bridger Canyon’s development plan and here to view the zoning regulations document)
Gallatin County Case Study: Middle Cottonwood District– Self-Zoning to Protect Mule Deer Winter Range
In the early 1990’s, residents of the Middle Cottonwood District became concerned that the influx of newcomers to Gallatin County would not only change the nature of their community but would also forever alter the wilderness habitat. In an attempt to avert future disaster, residents launched a dynamic grassroots effort to save the way of life for them and the wildlife that inhabit the region. Forming a citizen committee and working closely with the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, it was determined that preservation of mule deer winter range should be the emphasis of the plan. Once the external geographical boundaries of the district were established, a line was drawn within to define critical mule deer habitat. North of this line is now considered critical habitat, south of the line not as critical. To minimize impact on the deer, 1 home per 40 acres is zoned for north of the line. South of the line, increased density is allowed at 1 home per 20 acres. To additionally protect critical habitat, a transfer of development rights incentive program (see definition in Growth Management Tools section) was developed with the assistance of Gallatin County. The TDR program allows landowners north of the line to sell their development rights to landowners who are located south of the line; northern landowners in turn receive a double development credit.
Specific details about programs in the Yellowstone Region can be acquired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) or local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Services Agency (FSA) offices.
In April 1996 Congress enacted a revised Farm Bill that improved existing conservation programs to create new opportunities to protect critical wildlife habitat on private land. These programs provide cost-share and incentive payments to participating landowners with a limit of $50,000 over the life of the contract and have been incredibly successful to conserving habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Farm Bill programs include the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Environmental Easement Program, and Farm and Ranch Protection Programs. Specific wildlife targeted opportunities include:
Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) – The WHIP program helps landowners improve wildlife habitat on their lands. Cost-share payments are made to landowners who are willing to develop habitat for threatened and endangered species as well as upland, wetland wildlife and fish habitat.
Partners for Wildlife Program (PWP) - The PWP program is administered by the FWS and results in partnerships between private landowners and state and federal agencies. These partnerships result in restoration and enhancement of fish and wildlife habitat. The FWS provides technical assistance and a cost share of almost 100%. Eligible activities for the program include construction of nest sites, planting of native and riparian vegetation, restoration of wetlands and adjustment to grazing plans.
State Easement Programs
To protect critical open space and wildlife habitat the three states in the Yellowstone region (Idaho, Wyoming and Montana) have allocated funding to purchase titles and easements or to exchange state lands with private lands. The State usually gives precedence to securing big game winter range, protecting habitat for waterfowl and ensuring long-term fishing access. Revenues for these programs are generally generated from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses.
Of the three states, Montana is at the forefront of conservation efforts. Unfortunately, Wyoming and Idaho have not yet established equivalent easement programs. Through this highly successful program Montana has conserved many important habitat areas in the Yellowstone region, including elk and bighorn sheep winter range in the Bridger Mountains and Paradise Valley and rangeland in Madison Valley. The conservation easement program was established in 1987 by the state legislature under House Bill 526. This law earmarks a portion of fees collected from hunting licenses to be used for conserving wildlife habitat on private lands through leases, easements or outright purchase. The primary goal of Habitat Montana is to protect at least 10% of each of three specific habitat types. Targeted habitat falls into three seriously threatened major habitat types including: riparian areas, intermountain grasslands and sagebrush grasslands. These habitat types are home to species such as Mountain Plover, Ferruginous Hawk, Sage Grouse, Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Richardson's Ground Squirrel, and Black-footed Ferret. State officials and savvy landowners are learning to design deals that maximize public and private benefits while costing little to taxpayers.
Habitat Montana Case Study: Rangeland Habitat Preservation
Under Habitat Montana, a retiring landowner in Powder River County wanted his 35,000 acre ranch protected in perpetuity from subdivision and preserved for hunting. Through a series of negotiations, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks was able secure a 30,000 acre conservation easement with the retiring landowner and a neighboring ranch owner in Valley County. In this scenario, all parties ended up satisfied - the Valley County landowner received cash payments as well as thousands of acres of additional range for his livestock and the state secured agreements for range management improvements, pesticide reduction and public access for hunting.
Wildlife Benefits: This rangeland easement contains critical sage grassland habitat crucial to the survival of the endangered Sage Grouse. Additionally, this type of terrain provides habitat for seasonal and year-round resident species. Year-round, grouse, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, and several raptor species inhabit these areas. Seasonally, mule deer, elk and bighorn sheep migrate to winter ranges in the valleys. In order to maintain the integrity of this grassland ecosystem, these easements are becoming ever more important.
Habitat Montana Case Study: Rangeland Preservation for Mule Deer
As urban sprawl creeps across the countryside, large unbroken tracts of habitat are becoming scarcer. 880 acres of important mule deer winter range in the Bridger Mountains to the north of Bozeman, Montana, was threatened by subdivision and development. A conservation easement was put in place to preserve this grassland habitat as well as to ensure public hunting access. The landowner received a cash payment and tax deduction, and can be secure in the knowledge that his property will remain undeveloped.
There are a variety of individuals and organizations developing these type of conservation programs. Key organizers include the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (Montana Block Management Program), Private Ranches of Montana, Inc. (providing hunting and fishing access to several large contiguous ranches), the Gallatin Wildlife Association, and the Milesnick Ranch.
Hunting/Fishing Alliance Case Study: The Milesnick Ranch - Belgrade, Montana
Tom and Mary Kay Milesnick are third-generation Montana ranchers who have created an economically viable ranch, working in unison with the surrounding ecosystem and its wildlife inhabitants. In the late 1990’s, the Milesnicks became concerned that environmentalists might push for regulations on cattle grazing to protect habitat and water quality. Instead of fighting the inevitable, the Milesnicks decided to show that recreationists, cattle, and healthy fisheries can co-exist. They now epitomize success, merging the concepts of maintaining valuable open space, improving wildlife habitat and natural resources, while also allowing public access. These cattle ranchers are most widely known for allowing public fishing access to portions of the renowned trout filled East Gallatin River that flows through their property. The Milesnicks charge $50 per day to fish the ranch rivers. As the 2001 winners of the National Environmental Stewardship Award for Region V (which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana) they have become known as leaders in responsible private land stewardship. They are improving the GYE and their business through responsible land conservation practices. Their Gallatin Valley ranch consists of two regions – the Belgrade place (1,400 acres) and the Livingston place (4,800 acres of mountain pasture), formed into the Milesnick Recreation Company in 1999. In addition to their cattle enterprise, hay, grain, fishing, and waterfowl and elk hunting complement their business endeavors.
How the Milesnick Ranch functions as part of the GYE
· The Belgrade unit primarily provides winter forage areas, public fee fishing and various waterfowl hunting, serving as the focal point for their riparian corridor management. The Mountain unit provides migratory regions for elk and also functions as a timber resource for wildlife habitat and planned timber harvests.
· To dramatically improve range conditions, the Ranch employs a 17-pasture short-duration rest-rotation cattle grazing system, ranging from ½ to 3 ½ days (with a maximum of five grazings per pasture per year).
· The riparian corridors are carefully managed, only allowing cattle in on a closely monitored cyclical basis to control noxious weeds. Specific gravel cattle crossings and watering sites have been created to decrease damage to fish habitat. Controlled access to the stream bank grass keeps it cropped for anglers and also serves to maintain bank stability.
· The flow of the stream has been changed and deepened for trout habitat, adding in riffles and bends where it had previously been too shallow and straight.
· These range management tactics have increased beef production by 30% while also creating substantial increases in fish and elk herd populations.
· To minimize soil erosion, permanent native vegetation has been established throughout the ranch system.
· For further information about the Milesnicks, please visit www.milesnickrecreation.com.
These non-governmental organizations seek to protect wildlife habitat in the GYE through a variety of strategies, such as through land purchase, land trust, and land exchange. The following lists some of the most active organizations. Land Trust Alliance Northwest, Montana Land Reliance, Teton Valley Land Trust, Idaho Nature Conservancy, Montana Nature Conservancy, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Wyoming Nature Conservancy, Wyoming Open Land Project, The Trust for Public Land, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other good links.
Land Protection Case Study: Gallatin County Land Exchange – Partnerships Between Public and Private Groups to Preserve Big Game Habitat
In order to achieve complete ecosystem protection in GYE, organizations (governmental and non-governmental) and landowners must work as a fluid unit to conserve properties that influence communal resources such as watersheds and rangelands. It is imperative that multilateral agreements across jurisdictions involve a variety of measures for protection, such as conservation easements, trusts, and land exchanges. Under the Gallatin Land Consolidation Act of 1998, it is provided that the exchange of land and other assets, which include timber harvest rights with the Big Sky Lumber Company, will eventually be included in the Gallatin National Forest and Deerlodge Forest, Montana. Under an earlier version of the act, the Taylor Fork Big Game Habitat Acquistion project evolved.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, with a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (a nonprofit natural resource management organization established by Congress in 1984), was able to acquire Section 35 in the Taylor Fork drainage basin of the Gallatin River in Gallatin County. This land was part of an 11,000 acre tract owned by Big Sky Lumber, originally identified for public acquisition under the Gallatin Range Consolidation and Protection Act of 1993. The drainage provides important winter range for moose and the endangered grizzly bear as well as approximately 40% of the Gallatin elk herd from Yellowstone National Park. Additionally, the drainage serves as a migration route for huge numbers of elk that spend winters and calve in the Madison Range. After the purchase, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation gave the land to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MDFWP). Management and ownership of the property by the MDFWP will permanently protect the wildlife habitat and ensure that future management is coordinated with other contiguous resource lands. This example illustrates how innovative partnerships between public and private organizations can work towards successful long term wildlife habitat protection.
 Most Growth Management information courtesy of Tools for Managing Growth in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Bozeman, Montana
 Tools for Managing Growth in the Greater Yellowstone Area
 Johnson, Randy. Senior Planner, Gallatin County Planning Department. Personal Communication. (1 May 2002)
 Johson, Randy. Personal Communication
 Johson, Randy. Personal Communication.
 Glick, Dennis et. al. Incentives for Conserving Open Lands in Greater Yellowstone. (1998). 29-35.
 Glick, Dennis et. al., 35-36.
 Anonymous. “Environmental Stewardship Award Program. ” The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. hill.beef.org. (2 May 2002).
 The Magic Of Yellowstone. “Gallatin Land Consolidation Act of 1998 (Gallatin II).” http://www.yellowstone-online.com/history/GallatinII98.html. (7 May 2002).
*note: Some addresses are subject to frequent change.
Anderson, Terry L., Leal, Donald R., Policy Analysis “Inside our Outdoor Policy”, Political Economy Research Center, Bozeman, Montana, Policy Analysis No. 113, September 29, 1988, http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa113es.html
Thompson, Mike. “Montana’s Blackfoot-Clearwater Range: Protecting our Wild Inheritance”. Bugle, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. v. 17 i. 4 July-August 2000 Pg 21
Knox, Jennifer. “A Wide and Wild Land; Protecting the Porcupine” Bugle, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. v. 13 i. 4 August-October 1996. Pg. 31
Clifford, Hal. “Losing Colorado?”. Bugle, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation v. 14 i.2 August-October 1997. Pg. 86
Stalling, David. “Saving Colorado”. Bugle, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation v. 14 i.2 August-October 1997. Pg. 89
Clifford, Hal. “Baby Steps and Small Decisions: Deepening Our Commitment to Wildlife”. Bugle, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation v. 14 i.2 August-October 1997. Pg. 94
Stalling, David. “Hunting Pets”. Bugle, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation v. 14 i.2 August-October 1997. Pg. 98
Stalling, David. “Public Elk, Private Lands: Should Landowners Benefit from Elk and Elk Hunting?”. Bugle, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. v. 16 i. 1 January –February 1999. Pg. 68
State and Local Planning Organizations in Greater Yellowstone
Idaho Planning Association
P.O. Box 500
Boise, ID 83072
Montana Association of Planners
2711 Airport Rd.
Helena, MT 59601
Wyoming Planning Association
c/o Laramie/Albany County
Planning, Box C
Laramie, WY 82070
Several Greater Yellowstone Cities With Planning Departments
P.O. Box 50220
Idaho Falls, ID 83405
P.O. Box 640
Bozeman, MT 59771
414 East Callender St.
Livingston, MT 59047
P.O. Box 1687
Jackson, WY 83001
Several Greater Yellowstone Counties With Planning Departments
151 W First N
St.. Anthony, ID 83445
89 N Main
450 N. 2nd St. Rm 360
Lander, WY 82520
311 W Main
Bozeman, MT 59715
Several Regional Planning Organizations Serving Greater Yellowstone
Greater Yellowstone Coalition
P.O. Box 1874
Bozeman, MT 59715
Jackson Hole Alliance For Responsible Planning
P.O. Box 2728
Jackson, WY 83001
Corporation for the Northern Rockies
P.O. Box 1448
Livingston, MT 59047
Photo Credits (in order)
Photo 1 and 3-12 courtesy of corbis.com
Population Growth Map www.greateryellowstone.org/people_growth_map.html
Bighorn Sheep: www.cowboyhvn.com
The Milesnicks: www.milesnickrecreation.com