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SHERIDAN — Every time she drives down a road in Wyoming, she thinks about two kinds of people.
“Some drive down that road and see nothing out the window. It’s just nothing,” Nature Conservancy State Director Andrea Erickson-Quiroz said. “Then there’s the person who drives down the road and says, ‘I can see everything, the whole world, the far mountains, the rivers and streams, the antelope, the ranches, the cows in the field.’ They just see it all and appreciate and love that.”
Erickson-Quiroz pauses for a moment, seemingly lost in thought.
“The ones who live in Wyoming are the ones who can see everything,” she added.
It is that connection between people and landscapes that keeps Erickson-Quiroz going as she leads Wyoming’s chapter of one of the largest conservation organizations in the world.
It is that connection that has helped The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming reach its 25th anniversary this year.
Although conservation work was being done in the state before 1989, it became more unified once The Nature Conservancy was founded.
In fact, one of the first conservation easements in the state was done on the Wallop family ranch in Sheridan County in 1982, Northeast Wyoming Program Director Rick Pallister said. That easement set a variety of conservation practices into motion that lead up to the formation of Wyoming’s Nature Conservancy.
To date, The Nature Conservancy has completed 43 conservation easements in Sheridan County alone, totaling approximately 58,000 acres or 90 square miles.
Across the state since the formation of the conservancy in Wyoming, more than 1 million acres have been preserved in conservation easements, and 1,500 river miles have been enhanced or protected in some way.
“One of the real pleasures of Wyoming and conservation is that Wyoming has so many people who are committed to what we have here, to wildlife and open spaces,” Erickson-Quiroz said. “It’s easy to be in conservation in Wyoming because so many people care about it.”
Erickson-Quiroz said Sheridan County is one of the conservancy’s best examples of conservation in the state with a high percentage of land protection work done along the face of the Bighorn Mountains. Sheridan County was also the first community to fund conservation work with one-cent tax funds.
Pallister said local poll results have shown that as much as 80 percent of those asked support conservation in the county. He said this was exemplified in the county’s comprehensive plan.
“The leaders of the county asked the citizens what they want, and the citizens responded loud and clear, and one of them was a strong sense of conservation for wildlife values, clean water and scenic values,” Pallister said.
While valuable, conservation work is not always easy, Pallister said. He noted that Margi Schroth with the HF Bar Ranch south of Sheridan, worked for nearly 30 years to place more than 2,000 acres of the ranch’s land into conservation easements.
Conservation easements prevent a person’s land from being subdivided. It essentially works by having a landowner donate or sell the portion of their property rights that allow subdivision in order to preserve their land as it is. The value of the easement is determined by assessing the land’s value with all its property rights intact then reassessing it without the rights that will be donated in the easement. The difference between the two is the value of the easement.
“It is the single most satisfying moment of my career to know that these lands will remain unchanged forever,” Schroth said in 2012 at the time the easement was completed.
Looking foward in Sheridan County, the Nature Conservancy has joined with the Sheridan Community Land Trust and the Sheridan County Conservation District on the Tongue River Initiative, an effort to protect the Tongue River, and thus the Goose Creeks in Sheridan. This will be done by working with landowners along the river on various conservation practices such as relocating stock watering sites and corrals and moving septic systems away from the river.
“I’ve been in the business 40 years and sometimes I think we’re not getting anywhere, but then I look back and see, yes, we have done some good stuff, and it will be there a long time,” Pallister said.