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.