JACKSON — The Bridger-Teton National Forest just got a little bigger. Two hundred and forty acres bigger, to be exact.
Last week, the Bridger-Teton, The Conservation Fund and the Jackson Hole Land Trust announced that the Loomis Park Ranch inholding had been transferred to the forest. The formerly private acreage, about an hour south of Jackson, is almost completely surrounded by public lands.
“It’s been a top priority for the forest for a couple of decades,” said Dan Schlager, Wyoming director for The Conservation Fund, which helped the forest obtain the property.
In 2016, Loomis Park Ranch went up for sale at a $2.96 million price tag, and the Conservation Fund purchased the rolling expanse of forestland and sagebrush steppe. The Bridger-Teton didn’t have the funds to buy the land, so with help from the Jackson Hole Land Trust the nonprofit held onto ownership until it could gather the money.
This year, that happened. When the U.S. Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, it included annual funding of $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has existed since 1964 and uses oil and gas royalties to buy and protect wild lands. After the legislation’s passage in August, the Bridger-Teton was able to procure the cash to buy the parcel.
“The Loomis Park Ranch parcel is a great example of what is possible when partners come together for the benefit of our public lands,” Forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor said in a press release.
Preserving the parcel’s multiuse history was important to Schlager’s organization, which protects important habitats not only for their conservation and ecological values, but for the economic potential. Recreation and agriculture are important components of some of The Conservation Fund’s projects.
“We have a dual charter of environmental protection and economic development in the sense not of developing housing developments but doing things in a way that makes economic sense,” Schlager said.
The Upper Green River area parcel is close to several big-game migratory corridors, including the Path of the Pronghorn and the Red Desert to Hoback Corridor. Data from the Wyoming Migration Initiative shows that a variety of animals uses the parcel. Historically, the land has been used for ranching, and the forest intends to maintain that function. The acres will be added to its Beaver Twin grazing allotment so that historical use can be continued in concert with opening it up for recreation.
Making it part of the forest also eliminates the potential for development, which Schlager said “wasn’t an immediate threat,” but was a possibility. Several sprawling neighborhoods with large lots are in that area near the Hoback Rim, so it could have been made an agricultural subdivision.
Schlager wasn’t sure if the forest would create recreational trails in the future, but he said the Conservation Fund was happy to add the 240 acres to the more than 180,000 his organization has helped conserve in Wyoming.
“It’s a very sensitive property,” he said, “and we’re really excited to conserve it, to work with all these great partners, and to add that to the Bridger-Teton going forward for generations.”