DEVILS TOWER, Wyo.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A significant agricultural conservation easement on almost 5,000 acres south and west of Devils Tower has been completed by the Driskill family and the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust. The primary purpose of the conservation easement is to protect the agricultural values of the property; additionally, the easement will conserve the wildlife and open spaces enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to the nation’s first national monument, designated by President Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906.
"Conservation easements can be effective and appropriate when landowners, conservationists and others work cooperatively for and agree on the benefit," said Wyoming Governor Matt Mead. "They can help to preserve our agriculture heritage, protect natural resources and contribute to the open spaces that attract visitors to our state."
Today, more than 400,000 visitors a year come to Crook County, and Devils Tower is the main attraction. The Monument is an important economic development generator for the northeastern corner of the state and is a favorite stop for bikers and other travelers on their way to and from nearby Sturgis and Mt. Rushmore. Visitors to Devils Tower National Monument will continue to enjoy the scenic views of the Belle Fourche River conserved by the easement.
Tim Reid, National Park Service Superintendent for Devils Tower National Monument, said, “The world-class viewshed surrounding Devils Tower is important to many people on many levels. This conservation easement is a testimony to family vision and collaborative partnerships coming together in protecting the singular natural, agricultural, historic and spiritual values that comprise this important landscape.”
The conservation easement was made possible by the generosity of the Bear Lodge Cattle Co. and Ogden and Zannie Driskill who contributed a significant portion of the value of the conservation easement. Significant funding for the project was also received from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Wyoming’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, the Northern Great Plains Conservation Initiative, and other donors.
“I can't think of a better legacy to leave for future generations than to keep a ranch in production forever,” said Ogden Driskill. “In an era where nothing is permanent, it gives me great pride in knowing that the ranch will continue providing clean water, wildlife habitat and food and fiber for generations to come.”
“The viewshed around Devils Tower is iconic for all of us. Most of us learned about our first National Monument in the fourth grade, and there is something incredibly spiritual about this place. This easement maintains those values, and along with them, the rich agricultural and wildlife heritage of Crook County and the Black Hills,” said Bob Budd with Wyoming’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust.
“Native grasslands are disappearing at an alarming rate, and innovative conservation efforts like this can both protect important ecological resources and maintain the economic value of ranches,” said Gates Watson, Northwest Director with The Conservation Fund at the Northern Great Plains Conservation Initiative.
For most Americans, Close Encounters of the Third Kind introduced them to the spectacular formation of Devils Tower. The 1977 movie, starring Richard Dreyfuss, was Steven Spielberg’s first critical and financial success.
Devils Tower has a devoted niche of climbers who ascend it each year according to schedules that protect important tribal ceremonies and the nesting season of peregrine falcons. There are numerous stories of early attempts to reach the top of the Tower using ladders, ropes and even a parachute. In October 1941, George Hopkins was stranded on top of Devils Tower after dropping from an airplane on a $50 bet. Six cold days and nights later, a team of climbers summoned from the Tetons, Denver and New England brought him down.
The conservation easement is on land which is part of a larger livestock operation known as the Campstool Ranch, one of the oldest ranches in northeast Wyoming. This historic ranch provides important yearlong, seasonal, and transitional habitat for a variety of wildlife, including a substantial number of avian species such as bald and golden eagles, peregrine and prairie falcons, herons, grebes, osprey, egrets, terns, hawks, sharp-tailed grouse and Mirriam’s turkey. The peregrine and prairie falcons that nest on Devils Tower find substantial hunting opportunities on the hay meadows and along the banks of the Belle Fourche River, or “beautiful fork” as named by French explorers.
Because it is situated so close to Devils Tower, the ranch is especially vulnerable to subdivision and development. Without the conservation easement, such development could have eliminated these open spaces that are required for the local communities of birds of prey and severely limit or eliminate habitat for the ground-dwelling birds in the area.
Note: Media can find project area map and photos at the following
The Stock Growers Land Trust is dedicated to conservation through ranching. Based in Cheyenne, the non-profit organization serves the entire state and is Wyoming’s only agricultural land trust. Through partnerships with ranch families, the Stock Growers Land Trust holds and stewards conservation easements on approximately 223,000 acres of working land throughout Wyoming. Founded in 2000 by the 140-year-old Wyoming Stock Growers Association, it is one of the largest among the 1,659 regional land trusts in the United States. For more information, visit www.wsgalt.org.