A low corner of a stubbled hay meadow will become a short-lived pond by spring, hopefully to come alive with the calls of the now-hibernating Wyoming toad.
Beyond the meadows, Sheep Mountain glittered with new snow. A line of towering cottonwoods along the horizon marked the passage of the Little Laramie River, a mile of which meanders through the Lindzey’s ranch, which they’ve owned for the last 30 years.
Behind their single-story ranch house, chickadees, rosy finches, magpies and rabbits feasted on bird seed scattered from a handful of feeders.
From a north-facing room at the back of the house, which faces a river channel, they’ve seen bears, mountain lions, mink, muskrat, raccoons and skunks.
They’ve watched a deer tiptoe across the channel bridge. A bull moose has visited their backyard for the last decade.
“He thinks he owns the place,” Stephanie said, laughing.
A bobcat family roams near the house, while pronghorn populate the far fields. Elk and mule deer move along the river corridor.
“We’ve got the whole gamut,” Fred said.
The Lindzeys’ farm house was built in the 1960s, while an older cabin still sits on the property. The foundation of an even older residence is also visible.
For the last century, the 133-acre property 20 miles west of Laramie has been used mainly for hay, otherwise remaining mostly open space. The property borders the Vee Bar Guest Ranch to the west and sits just south of a section of state land.
The riparian habitat along the river offers habitat for numerous non-game species. The property offers winter and year-round range for big game, many of which visit the lower elevations from nearby Sheep Mountain and the Snowy Range.
In order to protect this habitat from future development, the Lindzeys recently established the Home Ranch Conservation Easement through Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
According to Leah Burgess, lands program manager for the foundation, a conservation easement is a voluntary agreement a landowner places on a deed that limits the amount and type of future development, thus protecting its conservation value.
“They still own the property to be bought and sold as usual,” she said. “It just puts some limitations on what they want to see future development to be.”
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will hold and steward the conservation easement in perpetuity, while partners in the project included Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition.
“Down the road, we know nobody’s going to develop anything on it,” Stephanie said. “It’ll pretty much stay the same, which is good.”
The Lindzeys moved to Laramie in the 1960s, and Fred worked in the University of Wyoming Department of Zoology and Physiology. He studied large carnivores and big game as part of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. After retiring from UW about 10 years ago, he spent six years on the Game and Fish Commission, which directs the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
They’ve long opened their property to researchers and students from UW. Audubon Rockies operates a bird-banding station at the ranch — one of four sites in the state. The Lindzeys also offer their land as a reintroduction site for the endangered Wyoming toad.
The absence of livestock makes research projects easier and protects the riverbanks from damage.
“There’s always something going on, especially in the summertime,” Fred said. “It’s a good place for people to be able to come and do things.”
Burgess said the property, though small, has more than 2 miles of river and stream drainage at the base of the Snowy Range.
“Those areas are really high-value for wildlife,” she said.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation aims to work with willing landowners to establish conservation easements that protect winter range, summer range, migration corridors, calving grounds and other areas of importance to elk and other wildlife.
Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, said the property was important to a variety of game and non-game species in addition to elk.
“This project is yet another example of capturing the absolutely critical pieces of habitat for multiple species of wildlife, and especially some of those we don’t think about every day,” he said.
The Lindzeys said they’ve been planning to establish a conservation easement for many years. Around their property, a stone’s throw from Wyoming Highway 130, development nibbles at the edges, mostly in the form of houses visible across the hay meadows.
“Our primary interest was to protect the habitat as it is now and, hopefully, provide the potential for changing it to make things better if we need to,” Fred said. “The best way to work with habitat is not to change it in the first place.”
Burgess said three conservation easements that link to the property are in the works, plus another one on the other side of an adjacent parcel.
“If they all happen, it’ll be a really large impact,” she said. “If this property weren’t protected, it would be like the hole in the doughnut.”
She said conservation easements are a way for families to leave a legacy.
“It’s having an impact,” she said.