WYDOT approves $9.7M for deer underpasses, antelope overpasses
Antelope run across a highway in Sublette County in this April 2007 file photo. The Wyoming Department of Transportation plans to build two highway overpasses in the county to help the animals and motorists at a key antelope migration point. (Mark Gocke/Star-Tribune correspondent)

GREEN RIVER -- The Conservation Fund has secured a large easement with a longtime working ranch family that will protect one of the last bottlenecks along an ancient pronghorn migration route in western Wyoming.

The conservation easement aims to protect the northernmost 2,400 acres of Carney Ranch, located at the head of the Upper Green River Valley in Sublette County.

The acreage includes a portion of the longest land migration route for pronghorn antelope in the Western Hemisphere, officials involved in the deal said.

Biologists say pronghorn can travel up to 160 miles during the annual migration.

The property straddles one of three bottlenecks on the antelope migration route, which includes public and private lands.

The bottlenecks are places where the sagebrush steppe is pinched by topography, vegetation or development. Short sight distances and obstructions might serve as a roadblock to the sometimes skittish antelope that rely on keen eyesight and blazing speed to elude predators.

The easement will prevent future development of the acreage and ensure its sound management in the future, said Luke Lynch, Wyoming state director for The Conservation Fund.

The ranch lies along the meandering 200-mile path that hundreds of antelope use every spring and fall to move between their summer habitat in the Grand Teton National Park in northwest Wyoming and their winter rangelands in the Green River Basin to the south.

The migration corridors have been restricted in recent years by subdivision development, highways and county roads, oil and gas development, and new fence construction.

The Conservation Fund purchased the easement from the Carney family, which will continue to own the land and operate it as a working ranch as it has since 1963.

Financial details of the easement were not released.

"This project protects the pronghorn and a working cattle ranch -- two icons of the American West," Lynch said.

The easement includes some of the highest quality habitat and open space in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, he said.

"The Carney family made a significant donation to make this possible ... we applaud the three generations of family members for their major commitment to conservation," said Lynch. "This is a huge deal for conservation."

Carney Ranch Co. President John Carney, a former Teton County commissioner, said the protection of the ranch lands was the lifelong dream of his father, Otis Carney.

"This easement achieves one of the long-term goals that my father had when they first fell in love with this valley in 1963," John said. "He would be very pleased with the outcome."

Protecting the Carney Ranch has been a priority for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, in part because it provides habitat for some 75 species identified by the agency of having the greatest conservation need.

The easement contains more than three miles of frontage on the Green River and lies adjacent to the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Game and Fish Director Steve Ferrell said the mitigation project will conserve and enhance habitat for sagebrush-dependent species potentially affected by natural gas development in the nearby Jonah Field.

Lynch said The Conservation Fund purchased the acreage using funding from the Acres for America program, a partnership established between Walmart Stores, Inc. and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The Jonah Interagency Office, Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative, the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust and the Nature Conservancy provided additional funding for the project.

Contact southwest Wyoming bureau reporter Jeff Gearino at 307-875-5359 or gearino@tribcsp.com

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