In March three new billboards were put up along Wyoming’s roads, expressing appreciation for the state’s ranchers and the role they play in Wyoming open space and conservation efforts.

To raise awareness of how ranchers help to conserve Wyoming’s wide open spaces, abundant wildlife and unparalleled recreation opportunities, a group of sportsmen, conservation and outdoor interests has organized the campaign, uniting to articulate a shared desire to recognize the importance of agriculture in land protection, and the need to work together to maintain what is unique about Wyoming.

The group – working in conjunction with the Wyoming Stockgrowers Agricultural Land Trust - includes Audubon Wyoming, Trout Unlimited, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy, and is committed to preserve Wyoming’s open landscapes, healthy wildlife populations, and iconic views.

“This is a worthwhile effort because it recognizes the importance of agriculture and ranching in maintaining our open spaces and conserving wildlife habitat. Historically, conservation groups and agriculture have sometimes been at odds. This campaign recognizes how these two interests can work together to achieve common goals. One only needs to look to the successful efforts of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust to find some real examples that show this spirit of cooperation in action. We’re hopeful that the message of this campaign will advance not only this collaboration but also the efforts we have undertaken in the Building the Wyoming We Want initiative,” said Governor Dave Freudenthal, about the group’s efforts in a press statement.

The group has placed three billboards with iconic images of the Wyoming landscape on varied Wyoming byways, proclaiming “Wyoming’s Open, Thank a Rancher.” Billboard locations are in downtown Cheyenne at 1901 Central Avenue, on I-80 about five miles west of Cheyenne, and on I-25 just north of Casper. Half-page advertisements with a similar message ran in the annual Ag edition of the Casper Star Tribune.

“Wyoming still has what so many other places have failed to protect. We recognize that our ranchers and farmers are important caretakers of our wildlife habitat and open spaces,” says Brian Rutledge, Executive Director of Audubon in Wyoming. “The stewardship and cultural values embodied by the ranching community are critical in preserving what Wyoming values.”

The coalition points to the ongoing success of programs like the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund in engaging landowners to help protect and enhance Wyoming’s open spaces and wildlife habitat, but sees the need for more tools and funding to ensure the diversity and abundance of wildlife habitat that is Wyoming.

The group of Wyoming leaders also emphasizes the importance of a diverse economy to Wyoming’s well-being, and points out the need to balance the demands of a growing population and increased energy production with protecting the state’s land, air and water.

As a next step, the group plans to meet with the Congressional delegation to discuss the importance of farms and ranches to Wyoming, and how to best work with ranchers to create conservation solutions that work for all Wyomingites.

“All too often, we assume our natural resources will always be around,” says Carol Hamilton, Uinta county rancher and member of Wyoming’s Coordinated Resource Management Executive Committee. “But unless we act now to create partnerships and work with our private landowners to help keep them on the land, well – the things we love to do in Wyoming won’t be part of our future.”