Ranch Near Cedar Breaks National Monument Protected

The U.S. Forest Service, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, The Trust for Public Land, the Utah Quality Growth Commission and the Mitchell family announced today the permanent protection of 1,855 acres of forested ranchland on the north side of the town of Brian Head. This family ranch contains large forests of aspen and Douglas fir, meadows, wetlands, and numerous creeks, and contains important habitat for a variety of wildlife including Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, black bear and wild turkey and many migratory bird species. The protected land is immediately adjacent to Cedar Breaks National Scenic Byway (state highway 143), a road used by many residents and tourists when they travel to nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument and the lakes, trails and other recreational opportunities found in the Dixie National Forest.

Dry Lakes Ranch has been in the Mitchell family since it was homesteaded by William Cooke Mitchell in the 1890’s, and has been used since that time for cattle and sheep grazing. For many years the family has been following sustainable land management practices to control erosion, restore vegetation, and maintain livestock at levels that are suitable for healthy habitat. The current owners, Donna Jean Mitchell and her son Harold Mitchell, signed a forest stewardship plan with the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry to formalize their continued plans to manage the natural resources of the ranch in a sustainable manner.

Most recently, Donna and Harold Mitchell have sold the development rights to Dry Lakes Ranch to the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Under this arrangement, the landowners have voluntary entered into a perpetual conservation easement with Utah Department of Natural Resources for the ranch land. The landowners, and future owners, will be able to continue agricultural uses and enjoy the existing cabins on the ranch, but have agreed that there will be no additional development or subdivision.

Funding for this acquisition of the development rights was provided by the federal Forest Legacy Program, the state’s LeRay McAllister Critical Land Conservation Fund, and also through a significant landowner donation of value.

The Forest Legacy Program is a program of the U.S. Forest Service that is funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund which reinvests a small portion of federal offshore oil and gas revenues into protecting the country’s most important natural resources. Forest Legacy is designed specifically to conserve environmentally-important forested lands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses. This is done through the purchase of conservation easements from the landowners. Utah’s Department of Natural Resources, through the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands has used this federal conservation funding program to work with 25 private landowners since the program started, protecting approximately 70,000 acres of important forests across the state.

Another important source of funding to complete this project was the State of Utah’s LeRay McAllister Critical Land Conservation Fund. The fund was one of several programs created by the Utah Legislature through the Quality Growth Act of 1999, and is managed by the Quality Growth Commission. The McAllister Fund is critical in attracting federal conservation funding to Utah, in addition to local and philanthropic funds for land protection. The Fund leverages $4 of such outside funds for every $1 spent.

The sale of development rights has been an important tool for land conservation across Utah, especially on large family farms and ranches. Under these programs, the lands can remain in agricultural use and continue to be owned and managed by the landowners. It also allows these owners to realize some of the value of their land now, both through the money from the sale of a conservation easement to programs such as the Forest Legacy Program and also through federal tax benefits, and avoid having to meet their financial needs through an outright sale of their land to developers.

The national land conservation organization The Trust for Public Land (TPL) provided its expertise in this conservation project in addition to providing funds for the appraisal and other required work to complete the transaction “We are very pleased to have helped protect this important ranch for future generations of Utah and to have been a part of a successful partnership to protect Dry Lake Ranch,” said Michael Patrick, Trust for Public Land project manager. “The Mitchell family is typical of many landowners that we work in Utah with who are trying to ensure that land which has been in their family for a number of generations will be protected.”