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Conserving and Restoring Grassland for Cattle and Wildlife

Burke Easement along the Missouri Breaks.Kelly and Tami Burke provide for more than cattle on their ranch south of Glasgow. Their land is also used by pronghorn, Greater Sage-grouse, mule deer and a variety of wildlife that depend on its diverse mix of habitat. Wildlife like sage-grouse thrive where good grazing practices are combined with keeping good habitat intact. The Burkes are doing both.

That’s why it made sense for them to place 3,792 acres into a conservation easement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and The Nature Conservancy.

For Kelly Burke, the easement made sense.

“It just looked like the benefits we were getting were higher than what we’d be giving up.”

They’ve even gone a step further by restoring about one square mile of former cropland. The 640 acres have now been seeded for native vegetation.

“Restoring natural vegetation on soils better suited as rangeland than crops ensures continuity of habitat that is critical for healthy sage-grouse populations,” says Brian Martin, grasslands conservation director for The Nature Conservancy in Montana.

The easement bridges a gap between it and the remaining habitat which ranges from grasslands in the Missouri River Breaks to sagebrush grassland.

The easement purchase was a cooperative effort with NRCS, which provided a portion of the funds for the acquisition through the Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) program. The ALE program was created by Congress to support the conservation of family farms and ranches. 

In addition to the easement, the Burke’s have worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Bureau of Land Management to improve the management of the range on their private land and BLM leases. Their goal is to enhance habitat for sage-grouse while improving forage for livestock. The easement allows for these continued grazing practices as part of a sustainable ranch operation.