Elk Occupancy Agreements

What is an elk occupancy agreement?

An elk occupancy agreement is a voluntary agreement between wildlife interests and landowners to improve elk tolerance and voluntarily conserve elk habitat. In many cases, a landowner is willing to manage land for conservation but is unwilling to enter into a conservation easement, which requires conservation in perpetuity. That is when an elk occupancy agreement or a shorter-term habitat lease can provide an alternative. In the Paradise Valley, conserving wildlife habitat is of critical importance given the increasing pressure of population growth and development. These pressures threaten the habitat integrity of large, private working lands of the region that provide essential winter range for a variety of wildlife including elk, a keystone species of the region’s ecosystem.

“Elk herds can only be as healthy and as big as their winter range.”

Elk migrating during the winter. ©Genthar
The first elk occupancy agreement in the Northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

PERC and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition have partnered with a local family ranch in the Paradise Valley to conserve a nearly 500-acre elk winter range area, separated by approximately 1.25 miles of wildlife-friendly fencing. The designated acreage will exclude livestock and allow for the free and unrestricted movement of elk. The landowner will conduct habitat management and enhancement activities including invasive conifer tree removal, cheatgrass spraying, controlled burning, and further noxious weed treatment when needed in the elk winter range to maintain and enhance range conditions.

“No two agreements will look the same, so long as it works for the rancher and the elk.”

An aerial view of the ranch, the 1.25 miles of fence separating cattle grazing land to the left from elk winter range to the right.
What are the conservation benefits of this elk occupancy agreement?
  • The fence will establish this area of the ranch exclusively for elk and other wildlife use. It will give the full supply of forage in the historic elk winter range area to wildlife, whereas previously it had been limited by competition with livestock. It will also enable the landowner to better manage the lower elevation lands adjacent to the elk winter range area during the summer in a way that will attract wildlife in the fall.
  • As elk spend more time in the elk winter range area, neighboring farmers and ranchers will also benefit from a reduction of close cattle-to-elk contact, decreasing the potential for brucellosis spread to livestock as well as lessening the damage to fields and haystacks.
  • The general public will benefit as the landowner sets aside an area that historically wintered elk for the benefit of elk and other wildlife.
The rancher demonstrates the wildlife-friendly nature of the fence.

Explore Additional Resources 

Conserving Migration Corridors in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: A PERC research initiative focused on creating incentives that can make migratory wildlife a benefit, not a burden, for the private landowners who provide critical habitat.