The Nature Conservancy has purchased a conservation easement on approximately 2,785 acres of the Smith Creek Ranch in Churchill and Lander counties in central Nevada. The effort supports sustainable ranching and habitat conservation. A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement that prevents development while protecting important natural working land conservation values.
Smith Creek Ranch is in the heart of Nevada’s sagebrush sea—a habitat that is increasingly threatened by development, invasive species and severe fires.
Ranch owner Ray Hendrix sees the easement as a smart business decision.
“Protecting our natural resources is key,” Hendrix said. “If we don’t, we won’t be successful.”
Hendrix understands the importance of conserving the land for sustainable agricultural production, sage grouse and other sagebrush dependent wildlife to thrive. He’s also worked with the Bureau of Land Management to remove encroaching pinyon and juniper trees which can uptake a lot of water, disrupting the natural hydrology of an area that can result in damaging fires.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Department of Defense (DoD) provided funding for the easement acquisition. The NRCS share of the funds was provided through the Sage Grouse Initiative Farm Bill funds. The DoD portion comes from the Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI).
REPI is designed to reduce the environmental impacts of military operations and protect the military’s ability to accomplish its training, testing and operation missions by helping relieve or avoid land-use conflicts within the military base mission areas of operation. The Smith Creak Ranch easement is the first to close with the 2015 REPI Challenge funds.
“Our partners have incredible knowledge of habitat and working lands in Nevada. It has been a privilege to contribute to the project,” said Rob Rule, Naval Air Station Fallon’s Community Plans and Liaison Officer.
“Having quality partners made this a success,” said Ray Dotson, NRCS Nevada state conservationist. “Nevada is fortunate to have great partners and high quality collaboration. We have done well with this effort, and we are excited about the future.”
Protecting and restoring sagebrush habitat is one of The Nature Conservancy’s top priorities in Nevada.
“Collaborative efforts like this one helped prevent a federal endangered listing of the sage grouse in 2015. This easement also supports a long-time ranching family. A healthy economy and environment are integrally tied,” said Chris Fichtel, Project Director for The Nature Conservancy.
Partners in the REPI Challenge proposal are the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), DoD Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Nevada Conservation Districts Program, the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Nevada was one of only three locations across the country that received part of last year’s $6.2 million in REPI Program funds, which will leverage more than $21 million in partner funding to protect 28,050 acres of important habitat nationwide.
Watch the video about this great partnership project here.