05 2018 (May)

Wyoming Conservation Exchange Receives First UW Partnership Honor

People seated at table for small group meeting.
Representatives from the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Sublette County Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and University of Wyoming Extension came together at Red Canyon Ranch near Lander to work out how a conservation exchange could work in Wyoming.

A partnership that provides private-market financial incentives to landowners for engaging in environmentally beneficial activities has been recognized with the University of Wyoming’s inaugural Marvin Millgate Excellence in Community Partnership Award.

The Wyoming Conservation Exchange (WCE) is a partnership among UW Extension faculty members and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD), the Wyoming Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

“This partnership has demonstrated what organizations with diverse interests can accomplish when they sit down to work together,” says Kristi Hansen, associate professor in UW’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. “I think we helped to move the conversation forward on compensatory mitigation in the state of Wyoming, and we learned a great deal along the way. We look forward to Wyoming benefiting from successful mitigation programs that maintain our natural resources long into the future.”

Along with Hansen, others from UW involved in WCE include agricultural and applied economics Professor Roger Coupal; ecosystem science and management Associate Professor Ginger Paige; and adjunct faculty member Anne MacKinnon of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

WCE started as a grassroots effort in the Upper Green River Basin. As early as 2006, landowners and natural resource managers at SCCD discussed how landowners might generate revenue from conservation practices that provide social benefits beyond the ranching community. In 2011, SCCD, the Nature Conservancy and UW Extension partners followed the landowners’ lead and began studying the feasibility of a “payment for ecosystem services” program.

Under that approach, landowners, the “sellers,” implement practices — such as grazing and irrigation management — that generate measurable conservation outcomes to maintain or enhance wildlife habitat and water resources. The revenue landowners receive can help keep their ranches in operation, improving both the environment and economy. “Buyers” can include energy companies seeking off-site mitigation for impacts from their development activities that cannot be avoided or reclaimed, or conservation foundations wanting to support the high-quality environmental amenities that characterize Wyoming landscapes.

The partners used structured focus groups and numerous conversations with landowners, energy companies and government agencies to understand what such a program would need to look like — for example, what ecosystem services would be of interest to buyers, sellers and regulators, and what would be accepted by the landowner, energy development, regulatory and conservation communities.

In 2012, partners’ efforts attracted the attention of EDF, which was developing habitat exchanges across the western United States for sage grouse. EDF was interested in engaging with landowners, regulators and developers to find ways to protect grouse habitat to avoid the need for a federal endangered species listing. In 2013, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association recognized the potential for a program to provide a new revenue stream to keep family ranches in operation and provide financial incentives for landowners to support wildlife habitat. WCE was formally established in 2016, governed by a stakeholder board of directors.

“We were excited to move forward with an idea that provides additional revenue to ranch operations, facilitates science-based conservation and encourages responsible energy development,” says Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. “The partnerships and connections we made along the way will be key to our work on behalf of the state in the future.”

The Marvin Millgate Community Engagement Awards were established by President Laurie Nichols and Provost Kate Miller, in cooperation with UW’s Engagement Task Force, to recognize collaborative teaching and research that extend beyond the UW campus. The selected honorees each receive $1,000, which may be used to fund additional engagement work by the recipients.

Susan Dewey, associate professor in the School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice, received the Marvin Millgate Engaged Faculty Award; the Engaged Staff Award went to Alec Muthig, information technology trainer; and the Student Engagement Award went to Dilnoza Khasilova, a Ph.D. student in the College of Education.

“I am excited that UW has launched its efforts in engagement and outreach by acknowledging the outstanding work of three of our own,” says Jean Garrison, who chairs the Engagement Task Force. “The faculty, staff and student recipients as well as the community partnership award for the first Marvin Millgate Community Engagement Awards are exemplary representatives for the important and innovative work being done across the state of Wyoming by UW and our partners.”