Saturday was one of those almost but not quite days for the Campbell County boys soccer team. Top-ranked and consensus favorite to win the Class 4A state soccer tournament, the Camels fell just …
PINEDALE, Wyo. — Citing a decline in donations, the Wyoming Land Trust has laid off three of its four employees and will transfer conservation easements to other land trust groups while it considers its future.
"I think nonprofits have been having trouble for years, you know, with the downturn in the economy that occurred in the late 2000s and the ongoing recession and recently this fiscal cliff," said Bernie Holz, president of the Wyoming Land Trust board.
The Wyoming Land Trust board will decide later this year whether to operate as a leaner organization or close its doors, officials say.
The trust has 58 existing easements spanning more than 32,000 acres throughout the state. Most are in Sublette County.
The land trust purchased most of them from farmers and ranchers. The easements are locked in perpetuity to protect viewsheds, wildlife and migratory paths. Ranchers can grow hay, graze cattle and irrigate the trust lands. Their children and grandchildren may also continue using the easements in the same way if they inherit the farms or ranches. Small drilling rigs sometimes operate in the easements.
In addition to the 58 existing easements, Wyoming Land Trust staff members were working on 18 pending projects with more than 31,000 acres to protect sage grouse habitat.
Wyoming Land Trust has contacted all landowners to tell them of the organization's changes and that protection of the easements could be transferred to another group.
"We wanted to be sure the landowners heard directly from us first," Lara Ryan, Wyoming Land Trust's executive director and now sole employee, tells the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/XEZEQE).
Staff and board members of the organization reached out to similar groups in Wyoming, such as The Nature Conservancy, about taking over easements.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is the only state agency that holds conservation easements. Transferring an easement will take time, said Butch Parks, Game and Fish's lands administration supervisor.
"Our priorities for land conservation easements may be different from Wyoming Land Trust and other conservation groups," Parks said. "As a consequence, we can't willy-nilly take on any conservation easement without looking to the benefits of that easement to Wyoming wildlife."
In 2000, a group of ranchers, educators and business owners formed the Green River Valley Land Trust. For a decade, the organization paid ranchers, provided them income or helped them get a state tax benefit for turning over conservation easements.
In 2010, the organization expanded statewide and was renamed Wyoming Land Trust.
It was the first land trust in Wyoming to receive accreditation from the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com