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#HabitatHero: Mike Fenn

Mike Fenn with Wind Rivers and cattle in background by Brianna Randall

Wyoming landowner leaves a lasting legacy for wildlife in sagebrush country

In western Wyoming sagebrush rolls across the wide-open horizon, stretching from the flanks of the Wind River Mountains down to the mighty Green River.

This rugged country sustains rural communities, ranches and wildlife. Sagebrush range provides forage for cattle, and habitat for iconic animals like pronghorn, elk, and the greater sage-grouse.

Ranchers here are voluntarily stepping up to protect and restore the country that supports their way of life.

Meet Mike Fenn, a landowner and business owner near Pinedale, Wyoming. He's working with the Sage Grouse Initiative, a partnership led by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, to conserve his working sagebrush rangelands.

As an avid outdoorsman who likes to hunt and fish, Mike believes in land management practices that boost his agricultural bottom line as well as the fish and wildlife he enjoys seeing on his property.

“We like wildlife,” Mike says with a smile. “It's kind of a priority for us on the ranch. We raise cows, but we try to do whatever we can for wildlife.”

Thanks to help from the Sage Grouse Initiative, Mike says that he's been able to “grow better and more nutritious grass” to feed his livestock.

Helping Livestock and Wildlife

Cows in the Wind River Range - Mike Fenn - sage grouse background

Helping Livestock and Wildlife

Pronghorn on Fenn Place by Brianna Randall

“I've worked with the Sage Grouse Initiative for three years, and I think it's been pretty successful. We've seen a lot of birds out here, and that's great...for them and for us!” says Mike.


Wind Rivers - Ranching country in Pinedale WY by Brianna Randall

Mesic habitat for wildlife without mountains by Brianna Randall

Leaving a Legacy

Perhaps most importantly, Mike put in place a conservation easement on the Fenn Place that protects vital sagebrush habitat and working ranchland from the threat of subdivision.

Through conservation easements, NRCS provides an incentive payment for the retirement of future subdivision rights. Fenn participated in the former Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (now called the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program). The easement is held by The Nature Conservancy and permanently keeps the ranch intact as a working ranch.

With this type of easement, there is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization, like a land trust, that limits future development of a property. These agreements maintain viable agricultural lands to ensure future food security and to protect prime wildlife habitat, grasslands, and soils.

“There's always the threat of subdivision, particularly this close to town,” Mike says, pointing at the houses sprawled along the horizon near Pinedale.

Cattle on Mike Fenn's Place in Pinedale Wyoming by Brianna Randall

“By us putting on the easement, some of the neighbor ranchers have gotten more interested in learning about conservation easements, especially since they see us still running cows.”

Once sagebrush is converted to homes, roads, or office buildings, it's lost forever as ranchland or wildlife habitat. Easements protect the wide-open landscapes sage grouse need to survive, as well as the intact rangeland needed for livestock production.

Preserving Ranchland Forever

Mesic habitat for wildlife on working lands in WY by Brianna Randall

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.