Elk Refuge-Adjacent Easement Conserves 40 Acres

The Jackson Hole Land Trust (JHLT) announced a new conservation easement today northeast of the town of Jackson, bordering the National Elk Refuge and Bridger-Teton National Forest. Protection of the property permanently safeguards a crucial link between the elk refuge and surrounding public and private lands in the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Protected in perpetuity on December 2, 2021, the easement preserves the property’s ecologically diverse open spaces that are vital for big game, large carnivores, birds of prey, small mammals, and reptiles. In conjunction with the elk refuge, the easement area lies within Wyoming Game and Fish Department-designated Crucial Winter Range for elk. Its protection also benefits other big game species such as bison, mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep that migrate long distances to seek out winter range on the elk refuge and surrounding lands. The new easement will limit disturbance in these crucial areas, preserving habitat quality for big game during times of the year when they are most sensitive.

“We are thrilled to partner with the family on this important conservation property,” said Ellen Incelli, JHLT conservation project manager. “Its protection maintains vital open space and permeability for wildlife moving between adjacent public lands, and the well-stewarded, high-quality habitat will continue to support the ecological viability of the Flat Creek watershed in perpetuity.”

The Twin Creek Ranch Road easement lies in an important transition zone between the open meadows of the elk refuge and the forested hillsides of the adjacent national forest. This connectivity is particularly important for many species of wildlife that must move between the two for their daily or seasonal habitat needs. Raptors such as the red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, northern harrier, and American kestrel can be seen hunting along forest edges and in open meadows on the property. Similarly, this area along the forest boundary provides important habitat for large carnivores such as the mountain lion and grey wolf as they transition between large swaths of adjacent federal land.

The easement is located in the Flat Creek watershed and supports a mosaic of habitats, including irrigated agricultural fields, grassland, sagebrush shrubland, mountain tall shrub, and conifer forest. Vegetation on the property filters runoff water before it drains into Flat Creek and associated wetlands. By limiting development, the easement ensures that the diverse landscape will continue to support the healthy function of the Flat Creek watershed, and the expanse of wetlands present on the elk refuge.

The easement was generously donated by the landowners and would not have been possible without their commitment to conservation.

Photo: Zach Andres

Jack Creek Easement Protects 280 Acres

The Green River Valley Program of the Jackson Hole Land Trust (JHLT) secured a new 280-acre conservation easement along Sublette County’s Jack Creek, building on three generations of stewardship to protect agricultural heritage, Wyoming’s big game migrations, and essential open space just northeast of Bondurant.

Protected in perpetuity on November 22, 2021, the unique topography and location of the Jack Creek easement support livestock grazing and a mosaic of diverse habitat types, including open grassland, riparian willow shrubland, wetland, sage-steppe, and stands of mixed aspen and conifer forest. Thanks to the Mack family, who purchased the ranch in 1948, the ranching operation is carefully managed with sustainable practices, efforts that are noticeable in the health of the land.

“I’ve spent my summers on this ranch since I was a teen and have always loved the balance between our cattle and the abundant wildlife that also needed this land,” said Jo Mack, rancher and wildlife artist. “Our family finds value in preserving part of the migration corridor for wildlife while allowing grazing for the domestic animals that are part of our ranching heritage.”

Working lands play an integral role in preserving the open spaces which sustain Wyoming’s wildlife.  Surrounded by the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the ranch lies at the northern end of the 150-mile Red Desert to Hoback mule deer migration corridor. In addition to mule deer, the property also supports pronghorn and elk migrations and provides crucial winter habitat for moose. The legacy of ranching and agricultural stewardship in Sublette County has ensured that big game species can still follow their historic movements across the landscape. The new conservation easement protects these uses in perpetuity, which in turn will help the culture and tradition of working lands in the region continue to thrive.

Conservation of this property contributes to the ecological viability of the Jack Creek basin and Hoback River corridor by protecting headwaters and providing habitat for important species, including native cutthroat trout. Approximately 1.25 miles of Jack Creek run through the ranch, combining with several freshwater springs to create almost 60 acres of wetlands. Coupled with open pastureland, the riparian corridor provides prime habitat for a variety of native birds like great blue herons, neotropical migrant songbirds, sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and shorebirds.

“Jack Creek is incredibly important to our regional wildlife populations, and it is also an important part of the vibrant ranching community around Bondurant,” said Jackson Hole Land Trust Max Ludington. “We are thrilled to partner with the Mack family on this very important conservation easement. The Mack family has thoughtfully stewarded this property for over 70 years and this easement ensures the key conservation and agricultural values they have worked hard to preserve will be protected in perpetuity.”

The easement would not have been possible without our generous funding partners: the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, North American Wetland Conservation Act with funds allocated through a partnership with Ducks Unlimited, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Knobloch Family Foundation, and the Joe Albracht Memorial Migration Fund. In addition to the public funding, the landowner generously donated a portion of the easement’s value.

Volunteer holding barbed wire.

A Win for Wildlife on Walton Ranch

Over time, livestock fencing breaks down in harsh Wyoming elements and becomes difficult to repair. This was the case for the perimeter fencing on West Gros Ventre Butte at Walton Ranch, 1,840 acres protected by JHLT conservation easement since 1983. In partnership with the landowners and Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation (JHWF), the Jackson Hole Land Trust seized the opportunity to replace the dilapidated delineator with wildlife-friendlier fencing.

The Jackson Hole Land Trust strives to partner with landowners to enhance conservation values on their property. When the time came to replace fencing, the ranch selected a wildlife-friendlier design for their 3-strand wire fence, which incorporates a smooth bottom strand to easily allow young elk, deer, and moose to slip under the fence when needed.

Recognizing that their fencing was placed in a core habitat area for ungulates, the ranch also took an additional step to further modify the fence for wildlife movement. With animal tracking data shared by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the JHLT and the JHWF selected specific areas of high wildlife activity. In these corridors, the top fence wire was lowered several inches, and a solid wooden top rail was placed over the wire to prevent entanglement of any animal jumping over the fence. Although the entire replacement fence height is within “wildlife-friendly” design specifications, these lower, safer gaps in the fence should further ensure wildlife are able to easily pass through the area for many years to come.

Though Wyoming is a “fence-out” state that does not require ranches to contain cattle within fenced pastures, the ranch’s perimeter fencing provides an important benefit to neighboring landowners in the busy corridor between Jackson and Wilson. Wildlife-friendly fences are key in keeping cattle off adjacent lands while allowing ungulates the best chance of moving across private property.

The Jackson Hole Land Trust seeks to partner with landowners to ensure conservation is successful on the ground. Our network of partner organizations and conservation landowners ensures the legacy of protected open spaces, wildlife habitat, working lands, and community spaces continue to inspire current and future generations across Northwest Wyoming. If you are a conservation landowner with a project in mind, please reach out!


Wildlife Cams on the West Bank

After a few years of fieldwork experience, I have seen a lot of wildlife in truly wild places. In a more urban setting, like my place on the West Bank, I was curious how wildlife can exist while navigating the evolving challenges inherent in the landscape.

I was originally inspired to set up a game camera because of a set of muddy raccoon prints on the side of my cabin as if the raccoon was trying to Spiderman up the wall. I hadn’t seen any sign of raccoon other than those perfect paw prints, and I was curious what else was frequenting the property under the radar. Initially, I set up a game camera in a few locations with zero results.

As a stewardship associate for the Jackson Hole Land Trust, I have been privileged to visit numerous conservation easements around the valley. These conservation areas help retain a mosaic of protected wildlife habitat and open spaces, existing in perpetuity, that benefit our native fauna while they navigate the challenges posed by our increasingly convoluted and developing landscape. In conversation with landowners out on monitoring visits, I’ve enjoyed talking about wildlife sightings and migration corridors, whether formal or just patterns of movement across any given property.

Back at my cabin, I noticed a tree had fallen across a buck-and-rail fence and thought that might be an ideal location for wildlife, as it was an easy fence crossing.  Within the first week, I had captured the raccoon sneaking across the log in the middle of the night, and since then have captured footage of an ermine, fox, skunk, moose, mule and white-tail deer, chipmunks, red squirrels, songbirds, and even a bee. I have my favorite photos and videos saved on a folder on my computer, and I will compare different species phenology (when the deer pass through, when new fawns/calves are seen, etc.) to next year’s data.

On behalf of the local critters, I would like to thank our community for their efforts in protecting, conserving, and valuing wild landscapes. And, for anyone interested, the game camera set-up only cost around $50 and has been incredibly insightful – I try to check it every weekend and stay informed on how my local wildlife is doing, all while respecting the animal’s space. Watch the footage!

-Zach Andres, Stewardship Associate

Gun Barrel Flats Easement Protects 97.5 Acres

The Jackson Hole Land Trust (JHLT) announced today that 97.5 acres in the Buffalo Valley have been protected through a new conservation easement on the Gun Barrel Flats Ranch that was once the Walt and Betty Feuz Ranch. Nestled between Grand Teton National Park and existing conservation properties, the new easement protects essential wildlife habitat connectivity and homesteading legacy in the Buffalo Valley.

Protected in perpetuity on May 11, 2021, Gun Barrel Flats borders the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park. The conserved acreage safeguards historic working lands and open space. Landowners Brad and JoAnne Luton, respectively fourth and third-generation natives, have grown up together—they met in high school—stewarding this valley alongside their families.

“It’s really about her parents, Walt and Betty Feuz,” Brad said of his wife’s family and his own motivation to protect their parcel. In 1910, JoAnne’s grandparents originally homesteaded to the south along Spread Creek, and Walt was just 18 when he bought his own land along the Buffalo Fork and began ranching and haying. “We are rooted in this valley,” said Brad, “and we want future generations to see this land as it is.”

Today, the Lutons keep horses and host guests in their hand-hewn cabins. The horses are just for them and allow Brad and JoAnne to pursue their passion—horse packing into the wilderness and daily morning rides into the park with their pups Lacey and Buddy. The guest cabins keep the lights on and owe their rustic charm to a forest fire in Ditch Creek in 1988. With help from friends and a trade for firewood, the Lutons got a permit to cut and skid out 800 lodgepole pines over two summers that had been left standing. They hand-peeled and built each cabin, and this character keeps families coming back year after year—in some cases, 25 in a row!

It’s not uncommon for the Lutons and their guests to see wildlife on the property. Gun Barrel Flats’ location between private lands in the Buffalo Valley and the Snake River Riparian Corridor supports valuable big game, aquatic, and wetland habitats in the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Waterways that flow across the property feed into the Buffalo Fork of the Snake River, creating a mosaic of riparian willow shrubland, agricultural wet meadows, and wetlands. The property’s vibrant resources support a variety of native wildlife species. The entire 97.5 acres are within the Snake River Headwaters and the waterways provide aquatic connectivity for the bluehead sucker (a Wyoming Species of Greatest Conservation Need). Stands of willows offer essential habitat for neotropical migrant birds which flock to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to nest each spring. Located in a Big Game Terrestrial Crucial Habitat Priority Area, the ranch provides important resources for Wyoming’s native migratory big game species. Elk, mule deer, and moose use the property during their seasonal migrations. Brad and JoAnne have also spotted wolf tracks on their morning rides as Gun Barrel Flats is habitat for regional wolf packs, as well as the Primary Conservation Area for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Luton family to protect this important property,” said Max Ludington, JHLT president. “The Luton and Feuz families’ thoughtful stewardship has maintained the intact ecosystem directly adjacent to Grand Teton National Park for decades and this easement will now conserve that legacy in perpetuity.”

The easement would not have been possible without our generous funding partners: the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, North American Wetlands Conservation Act–with funds allocated through a partnership with Ducks Unlimited. In addition to the public funding, the landowners generously donated a portion of the easement’s value.

Block Construction Builds Toward New Greenspace

The Jackson Hole Land Trust (JHLT) is thrilled to announce that the Greenspace on the Block will open to the public later this summer following the community-powered campaign to “Save the Block” in the summer of 2019. Though Block businesses are open, construction is well underway and the greenspace is fenced and currently inaccessible. Once completed, the Greenspace on the Block will be a place for friends and neighbors to gather that offers connection to open space in the heart of town and a glimpse into Jackson’s past.

Work at the Greenspace on the Block resumed in April. Guided by the vision of Hershberger Design, Wyoming Landscape Maintenance is set to complete hardscaping by early summer with landscaping to follow. The completed service drive provides much-needed infrastructure to Block businesses that is cohesive with the overall design for the space. Graded walking trails and interpretive signage will invite visitors into the new community conservation property. Age and ability-friendly benches crafted by local designers Hise Sikora and Prospect Studio will offer opportunities for conversation with friends or quiet reflection.

Bruun Boulevard is currently closed for Town of Jackson infrastructure updates that will provide a seasonal flow of water through the Greenspace on the Block each year. The JHLT received a generous grant from Teton Conservation District that will put Cache Creek at the fore of this landscape. Nearly all of this stream is piped underground beneath the streets of Jackson. The Greenspace on the Block will provide an important view of what was once a flourishing waterway and invite reflection on the future of conservation and resource stewardship in the valley.

“We are thrilled to see the community’s vision for the Greenspace on the Block begin to take shape,” reflected JHLT Vice President Liz Long. “We are grateful to the anonymous family that carried this project, our local business and nonprofit partners that call the block home, and to each and every community member that made the Greenspace on the Block a reality. Once completed, it will provide a space for the community to come back together after a year of isolation. We look forward to celebrating this successful project with the Jackson community.”

With a groundswell of local support over a four-month window in the summer of 2019, the JHLT led a fundraising campaign that raised more than $7 million from 2,500 community members. On August 16, 2019, the JHLT successfully recorded an easement on a portion of the Genevieve Block that will protect its community greenspace and historic character forever. The JHLT is raising the final funding necessary to complete construction and bring the community’s vision to fruition with the opening of the Greenspace on the Block.

While landscaping timelines may preclude a full community gathering this year, the JHLT is looking to 2022 to host an all-out celebration. Once construction is complete, however, all are welcome at the Greenspace on the Block!

Meet our Seasonal Stewardship Team

Each spring, the JHLT welcomes stewardship associates to the team. They spend the summer months working in the field with fellow staff and landowners to sustain and enhance the conservation values of easements across Northwest Wyoming. Meet this year’s stewardship associates, Zach Andres and Jackson Ray!

Jackson Ray

Jackson grew up in Portland, OR where he loved to explore the forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest. His passion for the outdoors led him to study Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration at Cal Poly. Upon graduation, Jackson spent some time working at an adventure travel company. This experience made him want to go back to school to study conservation and environmental education. He attended the graduate programs of the Teton Science Schools, and then completed his Masters at the University of Wyoming. After getting his Masters he conducted field research in New Mexico and has since moved back to Jackson, WY. He enjoys skiing, playing drums, and spending time in the mountains.

Zach Andres

Born in Texas and raised in Sheridan, Wyoming, Zach moved to Jackson three years ago. Zach spent his childhood watching grouse leks on the open landscapes of northern Wyoming and ever since has been inspired to understand natural processes and conserve wild landscapes and wildlife. Zach graduated from the University of Denver in 2015 with a B.A. in Geography. After working in the fly fishing industry for several years, he is now pursuing a career in conservation and wildlife biology. He has been fortunate to work on numerous wildlife projects, including research on mule deer migration, wolf-prey dynamics, moose mortality, and microplastics. Zach has a fondness for photography, fly fishing, grouse, hummingbirds, and thick-cut bacon.

Landowner Spotlight: The Morris Family and Camp GROW

Late in the fall of 1976, Dee Morris and Kay Hawkins drove from Big Piney and Jackson Hole, respectively, to meet for their first date at the Corral Bar in Pinedale. Thirty-four years later, the two returned to Sublette County and purchased the Mountain Springs Ranch. The property’s rolling glacial moraines and sprawling sagebrush steppe merge into the mixed forests of the adjacent Scab Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA), a wary name for a stunning and remote landscape. The Morris’ ranch is a haven for wildlife, notably mule deer and sage-grouse, although other characters like black bears and a few stubborn moose occasionally amble through. Inspired by the conservation standards of the neighboring WSA, Kay and Dee partnered with the Green River Valley Land Trust, and later the Green River Valley Program of the Jackson Hole Land Trust, to protect more than 550 acres of their ranch. With those conservation easements, the Morrises ensure that critical wildlife habitat and working lands persist for future generations.

In 2017, with invasive plants on the rise and cheatgrass creeping in, the Morrises joined with their local National Resource Conservation Service and Sublette County Weed and Pest offices to steward the ecological integrity of their property. The Sage Grouse Initiative provided funding for prescribed aerial treatments that by 2020 had achieved an impressive 90% efficacy on all test plots. Their pilot project is now a successful collaborative model for other ranches.

From the belief that the future of wild places and open spaces depend on today’s youth, Kay and Dee helped establish Camp GROW (Green River Outreach for Wilderness) in 2009. Nearly a decade later the next generation of Morrises, Wesley and Natasha, have stepped into management roles. For the new directors, wilderness experiences and outdoor adventures are vital for kids learning to balance and navigate the tangible and virtual worlds in an increasingly digital age.

At Camp GROW, kids and young adults learn conservation ethics and develop outdoor skillsets through catch-and-release fishing, horseback riding, and Leave No Trace principles. Campers also discover the cultural past and learn about the region’s earliest inhabitants. For more information on 2021 programming and camp dates, please visit www.greenriveroutreach.com.

Join the WYLD Advisory Committee

Do you want to help shape the future of community conservation in Jackson Hole? Learn more and apply to join the JHLT’s new WYLD Advisory Council (link in bio). WYLD stands for Wyoming Leaders and Discoverers and we are listening for the emerging voices of conservation in the valley. Apply today or share with a friend who might be a good fit: jhlandtrust.org/wyld-ac

Sediment-laden Snow Piles Hauled Away from Edmiston Spring

Creeks and rivers throughout Jackson Hole will soon be swollen with snowmelt. In urban areas, melting snow carries sediment, salt, metals, hydrocarbons, and other pollutants deposited on roadways and parking lots throughout the winter into streams and rivers.

Snow storage piles adjacent to waterways present an opportunity to protect water quality. With the support of Hungry Jacks General Store and Basecamp, Teton Conservation District (TCD) and the Jackson Hole Land Trust (JHLT) partnered with Teton Heritage Landscaping on a project initiated by the JH Clean Water Coalition (JHCWC) to remove the snow storage piles adjacent to Edmiston Spring. The JHCWC is a partnership led by the TCD, Protect Our Waters Jackson Hole, and Trout Unlimited to address water quality issues in Teton County. The JHCWC also administers the Trout Friendly Lawns program to promote ecosystem-friendly landscaping practices in Teton County.

Edmiston Spring is a small, spring-fed tributary to Fish Creek. It bubbles up on the east side of Owen Bircher Park, meandering through downtown Wilson along the Wilson Wetlands Trail for about a half a mile before meeting its confluence with Fish Creek. Edmiston Spring is a valuable nursery for juvenile Snake River cutthroat trout and provides aquatic and wetland habitat for numerous other species. Excess sediment, especially fine silt, clogs up loose gravel streambeds, which are critical for both trout and macroinvertebrate reproduction cycles.

Teton Heritage Landscaping transported four dump-truck loads of snow away from the spring. Just how much sediment did this prevent from entering the spring? Trevor Deighton’s Jackson Hole Middle School 8th grade science class investigated that question. Deighton’s students melted down 22 liters of snow and filtered out the sediment. Averaging the values, they estimated that the four dump truck loads of snow prevented approximately 4,783 gallons of water of questionable quality and about 1088 pounds of sediment from draining into the spring.

“The results of the investigation by the young minds at the middle school illustrate how small actions by the community can have big impacts on the water quality of Teton County,” notes JHLT Director of Stewardship Derek Ellis. “The Jackson Hole Land Trust is proud to be a partner of the JH Clean Water Coalition to help protect the waters of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

“This project, despite its small size, has a big community and ecological benefit,” says Carlin Girard, Teton Conservation District’s water resources specialist & associate director. “We hope it inspires others to consider snow storage locations that are close to streams and waterbodies, and pursue snow storage removal projects that could have a large cumulative impact on water quality throughout the valley.”

This small project builds on the Edmiston Spring Channel Enhancement Project, a collaborative effort that began in 2015 to improve aquatic and wetland habitat. Partners of that project included Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited, Friends of Fish Creek, Teton Conservation District, and the Snake River Fund.


Photo: Phoebe Coburn