ROOSEVELT The grandchildren of a Duchesne County sheep rancher have created a legacy that will forever protect the land he began acquiring in the early 1900s.
Through the creation of two conservation easements, 5,713 acres located 18 miles north of Duchesne just off U.S. 40 near the junction of state Route 208 (the Tabiona turnoff) will remain a migration corridor for wintering big game and an important habitat for both wildlife and rangeland for livestock.
Roosevelt resident Allan Smith recently finalized agreements with federal and state agencies and four different funding entities to place about half of the land his family owns in west Duchesne County in a perpetual conservation easement.
The easements prohibit development of the property forever while preserving Smith's private property rights and his working cattle ranch.
The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service purchased a conservation easement on 4,800 acres of the Smith property through funding made available by the Grassland Reserve program a first for Utah. The voluntary federal program targets grazing lands that have the greatest threat of conversion to commercial or residential property, said Brett Prevedel, NRCS district conservationist.
"It typically buys the development rights so it can still be owned and operated by the original owner, but the easement prohibits development," he said.
The Division of Wildlife Resources also holds a conservation easement that it purchased on 913 acres of Smith's property adjoining the NRCS easement. The DWR's purchase was financed through funding assembled by the division as well as the Utah Quality Growth Commission, LeRay McAllister Critical Conservation Fund, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Mule Deer Foundation.
The entire 5,713 acres will be managed as one easement, Prevedel said.
"There is one grazing plan that takes into account the health of the rangeland and the biodiversity, the plant and animal resources, the wildlife and the livestock," he said. The perpetual conservation easements will ensure the Smith property will continue to serve as a critical wintering area for hundreds of deer and elk.
The fact that it will never be developed commercially also means it will remain an important migratory corridor for big game and prime fall and spring grazing range for domestic livestock, conceivably forever.
The conservation easement will assist with the urgent need to maintain endangered sage grouse habitat, said Randall Thacker, DWR northeastern region wildlife biologist.
"Historically, sage grouse are not even a tenth of what they used to be," Thacker said. "They are on the state 'sensitive species' list, they are one we really want to watch so they don't become a threatened or endangered species. We have had radio-collared birds we have documented who come to Allan's property to spend the winter the open space is really important."
An appraisal of the property to assess its value with and without development determines what the federal government will pay the landowner, Prevedel said. The Smith family received about one-third of the value of the land had it been sold to real estate developers. The easement does make the property eligible for a tax break.
Smith said he was taught throughout his life about the importance of preserving the land for future generations.
"For my father and grandfather both ... being environmentally correct was their main thing. They were very adamant about taking care of the land," Smith said. "Leave the land better than you received it, that's probably the general philosophy."
Seven years ago, Smith offered 10,000 acres for conservation easements to the federal government but continual bureaucratic red tape put a crimp in that proposal. At one time, an easement agreement of any size appeared to be off the table.
In 2005, when it looked like government bureaucracy would stall progress yet again, Smith said his siblings and children, weary of the years of delays, began to consider selling their property to the highest bidder.
"The subdividers offered much more we had signed agreements in hand," Smith said. "A year ago in December the subdividers came out of the woodwork and they offered my siblings three times more money than what the easements would do, that's when my family was saying, 'Hey, what's it going to be?"'
Stephen Hansen, land and water assets coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, has nothing but praise and appreciation for the forbearance shown by Smith and his family members."The parties are tremendously grateful to the Smith family for their patience in this process," Hansen said.