23 December 2011

Price Ranch Easement Proposal - Eastern Sandhills

December 1, 2011. Price Ranch easement. Grant County News 127(17): 1, 5.

A grant application submitted to the Nebraska Environmental Trust requests funds to help establish a conservation easement on an entire ranch, to ensure it remains an intact landscape representative of the Nebraska sandhills.

The application by the Sandhills Task Force requests $395,627 over a three year period to use along with other funding for an easement on the 25,450 acre Price Ranch, in the eastern sandhills, north of the Calamus Reservoir, near Burwell.

Additional funding would be provided by the Sandhills Task Force ($120,000), Price family ($445,375 contribution), Nebraska Land Trust ($188,000) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service ($890,750).

The total cost of the project is $2,039,752 or about $80 per acre for the easement.

The ranch, according to the trust application, is part of a recently designated important bird area, according to the National Audubon Society. The endangered American Burying Beetle occurs on the ranch, based upon surveys done by conservation officials. There is a variety of wetlands used by different birds and other wildlife, typical for the sandhill's region.

"The Price families' leadership and commitment to sound ranching practices coupled with a holistic approach has resulted in a conservation ethic that will provide a lasting legacy for the citizens of Nebraska," the grant application said. The ranch also "provides suitable habitat for a tremendous diversity and abundance of grassland nesting birds," according to a letter of support from the Nebraska field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Funds being provided by the Nebraska Land Trust are derived from an agreement between the developers of the Broken Bow Wind Project and the FWS regarding direct or indirect impacts to habitat associated with the placement of wind turbines. A valuation of $108 per acre, for 1762 acres, was used to derive the total amount of $190,000 which was then contributed to the land trust, according to information provided by a representative of the FWS. The land trust agreed to then allocate funds to the Price Ranch easement.

This request for money is the most recent submitted in association with the Gracie Creek Landowner's Association effort in this area.

In 2011, funding from the Environmental Trust was provided to the Nature Conservancy for an easement on the 1,742.4 acre Horseshoe Bend parcel of the Switzer Ranch along the Calamus River. NET provided $190,000 though the request was for $292,800.

Based upon the amount requested and the acreage, the cost of the easement would be about $168 per acre. The expressed goal was to prevent subdivision of the property and exclude development. The easement property includes a "mile-long stretch of the river at the upper end" of the Calamus reservoir.

The project was identified as the "first easement acquired in a landscape where the Conservancy, Sandhills Task Force, local landowners, and the NRCS would like to eventually protect 40,000-50,000 acres from development," according to details given with the 2011 application summary.

Also in 2011, the Gracie Creek Landowner's Association received $90,000 to restore habitat for priority species. The application requested an additional $60,000 in 2012 and 2013.

This project would "improve ecological processes, conserve and protect native species and habitats, engage landowners in management, be livestock-friendly, build local expertise, and provide education and outreach." Efforts would include prescribed grazing, prescribed burning and cedar tree removal. This application summary indicated a goal of including 100,000 acres.

The environmental trust has asked for public comments on current grant applications, which will be accepted through January 2012.