Vital Ground Protected Along the Fall River

The Teton Regional Land Trust continues to build conservation momentum along the Fall River in Fremont County. Last week, the Land Trust and the Kirkham family permanently protected 80 acres of the Kirkham’s farm with a conservation easement. The conservation easement is a legal agreement that allows for farming and ranching on the property but permanently restricts the type and amount of future development that can occur on the property.

This conservation easement lies near the Kirkham Bridge over the Fall River; a popular spot for anglers and boaters and will protect scenic views along the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road. The easement also protects wildlife habitat for migrating deer, elk and moose as well as resident animals like songbirds, hawks and grouse.

“It’s great to see additional land near the Fall River protected. More and more landowners along the Fall River are beginning to understand the unique value this area offers for both wildlife and agriculture and their interest in conservation is spreading”, commented Teton Regional Land Trust Land Protection Specialist, Renee Hiebert.

The Kirkham property lies in close proximity to over 1300 acres of previously protected lands near the Fall River adding to the growing preservation of vital habitat and agricultural lands in Fremont County.

Landowner, Dan Kirkham, conserved his property because in his words it is “…a good thing for the Country to make sure we don’t overdevelop our open spaces”.

Teton Regional Land Trust would like to thank the many generous contributors that made conservation of this property possible including the Kirkham Family and several other individuals and foundations interested in preserving land in Fremont County.

For more information about this project or Teton Regional Land Trust, please contact or 208-354-8939. ■

200 Acres Protected on the Pine Creek Bench

Thanks to willing landowners in Swan Valley, the Teton Regional Land Trust and the U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), another 200 acres of land is now available for wildlife habitat and public use on the Pine Creek Bench in Bonneville County.

Its sage- and grass-covered highlands easily visible from the South Fork Snake River between Pine Creek and Dry Canyon, the property provides habitat for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, mule deer and elk. A very deep well and watering trough offers a potential watering hole for wildlife in an otherwise dry landscape.

The Teton Regional Land Trust facilitated the sale of this property to BLM. Because the property lies within a national Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), the BLM’s management objectives for the property and surrounding public land along the South Fork Snake River are to maintain high quality riparian habitat, provide critical nesting and wintering areas for bald eagles, and maintain high quality big game winter range.

800 Acres on the Fall River Preserved

A conservation easement now protects 800 acres of farm land and wildlife habitat just 13 miles from Yellowstone National Park, ensuring that vital big game migration paths remain a part of east Idaho’s wildlife heritage.

The easement protects property owned by Clen and Emma Atchley along the Fall River near the southwestern border of the national park. The easement protects a route used by elk, mule deer and moose to move from the park to escape winter’s heavy snowfall. It also protects two miles along the Fall River. Under the voluntary conservation easement, farming and ranching will continue on the property, contributing to the rural character and economy of the area.

The conservation easement was purchased by the Teton Regional Land Trust with funds from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and individual donors from eastern Idaho and western Wyoming.

Protecting key wildlife habitat on the Atchley property benefits the public. “The permanent conservation of the Atchley property,” says Idaho Department of Fish and Game Regional Supervisor Steve Schmidt “helps us maintain elk hunting in eastern Idaho.” Schmidt also points out that “protecting the Atchley property will benefit many game and nongame species.”

While wildlife inhabit the south-facing hillsides sloping down to the river, Clen and Emma farm the highlands, growing potatoes, barley, wheat and alfalfa on the rich volcanic soils. When he plants the crops every spring, Clen is working the same ground his grandfather did: four generations of Atchley have farmed, ranched and raised their families near Ashton.

“Ever since I came back to farm,” Clen explains, “it has been our goal to leave the soil and the environment in better condition than we found it. We try not just to sustain our land but to improve its quality with long rotations, best agricultural practices and respect for wildlife habitat. Some ground should be left as it is—beautiful, productive, and undeveloped.”

Emma believes agriculture to be fundamental to society. “All culture begins with agriculture. Artists, poets, –everyone– would have precious little time to pursue their crafts if they had to spend every day seeking food for themselves and their families, “ she observes.

Because Clen and Emma had plans to expand the family’s ranching and farming operation and could use the tax deductions available to farmers who protect their property permanently, they offered to sell a conservation easement—a permanent contract protecting the property’s wildlife habitat and agricultural values–to the Teton Regional Land Trust for far less than its appraised value.

Teton Regional Land Trust Executive Director Chet Work says “The Land Trust is so fortunate to work with willing landowners like the Atchleys. We are inspired by their vision for the future of this property and by their understanding of its importance to the wildlife of the Yellowstone region.”

Conserving lands with the best agricultural soils helps sustain our ability to feed ourselves. That’s the purpose of the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program: to keep productive lands in agriculture and ranching.

From the applications received annually, the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Idaho chooses projects that merit funding through the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. The quality of the soils, the importance of the property to agriculture locally and state-wide and the benefit to wildlife convinced the NRCS to provide the lion’s share of the funding to protect the Atchley property. “The farm’s highly productive soils can provide commodities well into the future. This was one of the reasons we felt the property deserved the protection of a permanent easement,” explained Hal Swenson, NRCS Easement Specialist.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, through its Northwest Wildlife Conservation Initiative, provided private funding for the conservation easement, which was used to leverage the public funding.

South Fork Property Preserved for Future Generations

Property along the South Fork of the Snake River owned by Jack E. Koon and Jack Lee Koon will be permanently protected after transfer of a conservation easement to the Bureau of Land Management. The Teton Regional Land Trust (TRLT) purchased the easement from the Koons. The land itself remains in the ownership of the Koon family.

“Dad could have sold this property for a lot of money,” Jack Lee said, “but it was more important to him that the lands stay in the family. Selling the conservation easement rewarded him for the way he’s taken care of it, helps with his retirement, and we keep the land.”

BLM Idaho Falls District Manager Joe Kraayenbrink thanked the Koon family for their decision to conserve their land. “Everybody benefits,” he said, “including future generations of Idahoans who enjoy spending time on the South Fork. Thanks to the Koon family, the views from the river will be as scenic in 50 years as they are now.”

Jack E. Koon’s father, Frank L. Koon, homesteaded this property in 1906, building a sod house for his growing family and granaries for his growing crops. Today, three generations of the family live on the property.

Over the years, father and son have resisted offers to sell off lots.

Instead, they kept the land intact, creating a haven for the deer, great blue heron, trumpeter swans, ducks and geese that share the cottonwood bottomland with grazing cattle.

Jack Lee also sold a conservation easement on his property, which adjoins the land owned by his father. In all, these transactions permanently protect over 191 acres of cottonwood forest, pasture, grain fields and wetlands.

“We’re fortunate to work with families like the Koons,” said Chet Work, Executive Director of the Teton Regional Land Trust. “Their vision for the future of this property as a place that will be used for agriculture and for important wildlife habitat matches the Trust’s hopes for this landscape.”

The South Fork is one of the West’s most scenic rivers and one of Idaho’s most unique and diverse landscapes. It forms the southern boundary of the Koons’ property. Bannock Jim Slough meanders along the northern edge, and the Henry’s Fork is just a stone’s throw away.

For people who enjoy floating or fishing the South Fork, the easement ensures that views from the river will remain unspoiled. Protecting the cottonwood forest helps keep the waters cool for Yellowstone cutthroat trout and provides breeding and nesting habitat for over 120 species of birds. Using a conservation easement leaves the land in private ownership and on local property tax rolls.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) funded the purchase of this conservation easement. First authorized in 1970, the LWCF targets specific BLM purchases of lands or interests in lands that lie in special recreation management areas, areas of critical environmental concern, or units of the National Landscape Conservation System for the purposes of open space and recreation.

For nearly 20 years, the BLM, partners like the TRLT, and willing landowners have worked together to permanently protect over 18,000 acres along the South Fork and the lower Henry’s Fork. The South Fork supports the largest native Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery outside of Yellowstone National Park and produces half of the bald eagles in Idaho.

Eastern Idaho also benefits from the economic impact of fishing and boating along these two waterways. Each year, more than 300,000 boaters, anglers and other visitors generate an estimated $41 million in income for the area and support some 1,200 jobs in local communities.

The BLM manages more land – more than 245 million acres – than any other Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The Bureau, with a budget of about $1 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and other resources on public lands.

900 Acres Protected on the Pine Creek Bench

The Pine Creek Bench in Swan Valley sits just above the South Fork of the Snake River. Because of its impressive wildlife values and scenic vistas, the Pine Creek Bench has been a conservation focus for several federal, state and non-profit organizations.

In late December, two properties totaling just over 900 acres were conserved. With help from the Teton Regional Land Trust and The Conservation Fund, the Idaho Falls District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) purchased two properties along the South Fork of the Snake River in Bonneville County, Idaho using federal Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF). Support from the Idaho congressional delegation helped to secure the federal LWCF funding to acquire the properties.

The Teton Regional Land Trust worked closely with both landowners to find permanent conservation options for the properties. Ultimately, The Conservation Fund purchased an 862 acre Pine Creek Bench property and on December 22nd transferred 304 acres of the lands to the BLM for long-term protection and management. The Conservation Fund intends to convey the 558-acre balance of the property to BLM in the future as federal funding becomes available. The property is located between the Pine Creek Canyon and the South Fork Snake River’s Conant Valley.

Additionally, the BLM purchased a second property with the assistance of the Teton Regional Land Trust. This property on the Pine Creek Bench protects and provides scenic views of the South Fork and Swan Valley. The landowners of both properties offered their properties to BLM because they wanted the land to be kept in its current natural state for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of the public who visit the South Fork of the Snake River. Chet Work, Executive Director of the Teton Regional Land Trust said “The conservation partnership that is working to protect the unique resources of the South Fork has been fortunate this year, we have had the opportunity to work with some very generous families who want to see the South Fork remain excellent habitat for fish and wildlife.”

The Pine Creek Bench connects summer range in the high mountains with lower elevation winter range along the South Fork Snake River for elk, moose and mule deer. Along the Bench lie privately held parcels of land, many of which are protected under permanent conservation easements held by the BLM, the Teton Regional Land Trust and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Landowners, agencies and land trusts have worked together to protect over 3,900 acres on the Pine Creek Bench and more than 21,000 acres along the South Fork. Protecting this landscape ensures connectivity for elk moving to and from the mountains and the river and helps implement long-range plans by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to encourage elk to winter downstream from Swan Valley away from more developed areas. Conserving this landscape also protects important breeding, nesting and brood-rearing habitat for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, identified as a sensitive species by federal agencies and a species of greatest conservation need in Idaho’s Comprehensive Wildlife Management Strategy.

The recently protected properties are now public lands managed by the BLM.