Habitat & Conservation  |  06/06/2024

It's Staying this Way Forever


Ted B. Lyon, Pheasants Forever, and a Montana conservation easement

By Tom Carpenter

Conservation easements aren’t always the easiest thing in the world to understand. I readily admit: I didn’t quite. Maybe still don’t.

But there’s nothing like doing a story on a topic to learn it better. Especially when, along the way, you get to know some pretty neat people too.

Meet the conservation easement. And meet Ted B. Lyon, a conservationist and hunter who put his Montana land into a conservation easement with Pheasants Forever.

Understanding Conservation Easements

A conservation easement is a set of voluntary land use restrictions that perpetually protects the land’s conservation values. A conservation easement:

» Protects wildlife habitat forever.

» Runs with the land if it is ever sold or when/if it passes to the next generation.

» Provides the conservation easement holder (in this case, Pheasants Forever as a non-governmental organization or NGO) with the ability to ensure the conservation values are protected.


The landowner retains fee title to the land. They own it and manage it in accordance with the terms of the conservation easement. They control access, unless an access component is part of the easement terms. They can sell it. They can pass it on. But they also:

» Know the wildlife habitat and ecosystems on the property will be permanently protected.

» May be able to receive financial benefits that can come in the forms of tax benefits, proceeds from selling the conservation easement to a land trust, and habitat management help via other voluntary conservation programs.

» Keep selected working lands — such fields for grain or pastures for grazing — in production, within the parameters of the grant of conservation.

Meet Ted B. Lyon

So, how does a boy from East Texas end up donating a conservation easement in Montana to Pheasants Forever? As with most topics of this ilk, it began with an outdoor upbringing steeped in hunting, continued with an ethic for hard work and lots of it, and came together with a desrie to conserve and protect a special place forever.

“My dad, Ted Lyon, had a motto: You shoot something, you eat it. Fortunately that didn’t count for crows,” Ted laughs. “We lived in East Texas and hunted a lot of squirrels and cottontails. But quail and doves were his passion. He passed that love of bird hunting on to me.”

“When I was 6 or 7 years old, I had my first solo hunt,” Ted recalls. “I took my BB gun, sat out by a tank, and shot 4 doves.”

“My dad didn’t duck hunt, but he encouraged me,” Ted says. “When I was 12, we had some old canvas decoys in the garage. I cleaned them up and painted the heads green. Dad would drive me out to the marsh before light, and I would hunt all day.”

“At age 13, when we were living near Big Lake, Texas, a local guy gave me an orange and white English setter,” Ted says. “I just started going, me and the dog, and kept going. We figured it out together. You could find 4 to 5 coveys of quail a day. That’s when I first fell in love with upland hunting.”

Ted worked as a police officer to put himself through law school. Hard work was always the name of the game, but as Ted built a career and eventually his own law firm, hunting was always in the boy’s blood.

“Trips to Kansas and South Dakota made me fall in love with pheasant hunting” he says.

Conservation Believer and Do-er

“All my life, I have been a believer and do-er in conservation,” says Ted.

As a state legislator for 15 years in Texas, he maintained a special focus on conservation, and was resposible for drafting and passing much conservation legislation, receiving many honors along the way. But his biggest accomplishment as a legislator?

“Wildife laws were once a county-by-county affair in Texas,” Ted says. “Imagine that. A real hodgepodge. And worse, there was no scientific management of game. I drafted a bill to pass game managment on to the state and do it by science.” That bill was signed into law in 1982.

In 1999, Ted made his first hunting trip to Montana, and in 2001 bought some property there. “We would spend a month there every fall, hunting all over Montana,” Ted says, “with my orange-and-white English setters, and Labs to fetch up birds.”

“I love hunting, and I love conservation,” he says. “They go together.”

Ted and Donna Lyon

Four years ago, Ted bought the property that is now in the conservation easement held by Pheasants Forever. The property holds sharp-tailed grouse, Hungarian partridge and pheasants. “It is wild, rolling and beautiful country,” Ted says. “You can almost see the bison that used to roam here. We still have deer and elk.”

Creating an Easement

Ted first got the idea for a conservation easement on a tour (purchased at a Safari Club auction) of a ranch that was in such an arrangement. “I thought, this is perfect,” he says, “to ensure that the land will stay the way it is, and even become even better. Putting a conservation easement in motion with Pheasants Forever seemed a natural.”

“It’s a great program,” Ted says. “A conservation easement is an incredible idea for the landowner, and in my instance it generated a big tax benefit. I donated the value of the easement to Pheasants Forever.”

“The landowner and Pheasants Forever work together to develop the conservation easement ‘encumbrances,’ also known as land e restrictions, and the habitat can never be developed,” he adds. “It is conserved forever.”


“The conservation easement is a win for me and my wife Donna, who is my 100-percent partner in life and all of this, it is a win for conservation, and it is a win for the land.” (Speaking of their lifelong partnership, the Lyons recently donated $1 million to Texas A&M University to start the Ted and Donna Lyon Gamebird Research Center there.)

“Pheasants Forever has been helping advise on management of native grasslands and pastures at the Montana property,” says Ted. “And we have a young organic farmer locally, who raises durum wheat on 900 of the acres that are suitable to farm. So we have production. But no pesticides or herbicides. It’s so much better for gamebirds and songbirds alike.”

“The easement land produces pheasants and other gamebirds that use public lands in the area too, and that benefits hunters that come to the area,” he adds.

“It’s all weaved in — native grass, managed pasture, crop ground. And thanks to this conservation easement, the habitat mosaic on our land will stay this way forever.”

Easements into Action

“A conservation easement is one of the many ways Pheasants Forever can help a landowner accomplish their longterm conservation goals,” says Jordan Martincich, vice president of develeopment for PF. Email Jordan at jmartincich@pheasantsforever.org, or call him at 816-560-1070, to get a conservation conversation going. You’ll learn something along the way.

This story originally appeared in the 2024 Summer Issue of Pheasants Forever Journal. To support Pheasants Forever’s habitat mission and to receive every issue of Pheasants Forever Journal, become a member today.