Youth Education Programs

The Teton Regional Land Trust began to explore youth educational opportunities early in its conception and continues to strive to connect our region’s youth to the natural world. We strongly believe that education is an important component of our work and that by educating kids on conservation and stewardship we can sustain connections between people and land that will carry on for generations.

In 2007 we partnered with Teton Nordic Club and offered several Nordic Naturalist ski events on conserved properties in Teton Valley. Children toured the conservation easements in search of signs of wildlife with help from Teton Regional Land Trust and Idaho Fish & Game staff. Wildlife and wildlife signs observed included trumpeter swan, grouse, mice and voles, porcupine, muskrat, and moose. Each skier received a Nordic naturalist card with which they could keep track of all the wildlife signs they found while skiing. Each child who took a total of three trips and filled out their card received a Nordic naturalist pin to help them commemorate their wildlife observation work. These Nordic Naturalist skis were held each year endured until 2015.

Also in 2007, the Teton Regional Land Trust created a scholarship in honor of Michael B. Whitfield.  Michael’s commitment to land conservation in Eastern Idaho has been instrumental in the protection of key landscapes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This scholarship program ensures that students, regardless of their financial ability, can pursue a career in conservation. Candidates are eligible to receive $1,000.00 toward their educational endeavors and must show an intention to pursue a major course of study in college or vocational school in the environmental sciences, biology, ecology, environmental planning or policy, agriculture, or a related field. Applications for the scholarship are due in April each year and reviewing them is something the staff always looks forward to awarding. Maybe one of the awardees will come work with us one day!

Since 2013 the Land Trust, in partnership with Idaho Fish & Game, US Fish & Wildlife, the Wyoming Wetlands Society, and The Trumpeter Swan Society, has released a number of Trumpeter Swans cygnets on suitable, conserved wetlands. The swans are banded or tagged and the hope is that they can be tracked and that they might return each year to Teton Valley to raise their own young. Depending on when the release happens, the Land Trust tries to invite a group of students to attend the release. Students get a lesson from a staff member on swans and their ecosystem, the chance to look closely at or even hold a young swan (they’re big!), and be a part of an important project that might shape the patterns of an iconic species. Kids who attended the releases are encouraged to look out for the tagged swans and report any possible sightings.

Raptors on the Ranch, held in 2012 and 2013, was a free event held at Six Springs Ranch in Driggs, where Teton Raptor Center brought over some of their feathered advocates to give flight demonstrations and to celebrate and learn all about our region’s birds of prey.

Our Woods Creek Fen outdoor classroom is open to the public! While we are not offering formal instruction, we do have it open for groups to use.

As part of the Teton Regional Land Trust’s Valley Venture Education program in 1999-2007, children explored educational stations filled with science. In the Fall, 5th-grade students in Teton Valley visited Treasure Mountain Boy Scout Camp, while 5th graders in Fremont County visited the Chester Wetlands, as the first half of a two-part educational series that gives children a chance to explore the outdoors and learn about nature. In the spring, the same Teton County fifth grade students explored the Wood’s Creek Fen outdoor classroom. Our eastern Idaho students live in such a remarkable place and we hope their ventures encouraged understanding of their local environment and interest in future exploration of this very special place.

In addition, teacher trunks have been an effective tool to connect our local youth to our local ecosystem. The teacher trunks originated in 2009 and have been enjoyed by students and teachers for more than a decade. In 2019, Joselin and Hilary created a program, Cranes in the Classroom, that utilized a script and an art project to deliver an in-person lesson about Sandhill Cranes and why our region is so important to their long-term survival. When Covid-19 hit in 2020, we switched gears a bit and created a virtual presentation that made it easier and safer to present the materials. We realized that we could engage a broader audience by having a virtual component to each of our lessons, and we decided to revamp our teacher trunk series with new materials, Spanish translation, and an online component.

Thanks to grant support from the Community Foundation of Teton Valley Youth Philanthropy program, Battelle Energy Alliance, Intermountain Aquatics, Richard Grundler, and Nancy Winter, we have outlined a series of four new Teacher Trunk lesson plans that build on each other and that we will roll out over the next year. We are striving to create four distinct trunks that can be used by community members throughout the year. Our last teacher trunk update was in 2010 and the materials are deteriorating or have become outdated. We are currently rejuvenating our teacher trunks with exciting new materials and information, salvaging what we can from the old trunks while exploring current topics and creating a user-friendly curriculum. Each trunk will be tailored to a specific grade level, and the modules will build on the previous lesson. The trunks will include laminated images, replica animal parts, digital software, literature, printed lesson plans, and any other relevant materials, contained in a carrying case for easy and safe transport. TRLT staff will provide a video presentation of each lesson that will be on our website, as well as the necessary information for a parent or teacher to teach the materials, depending on individual needs.

Winter Ecology: Snow Science and Animal Adaptations will be followed by Spring: Healthy Ecosystems and Renewal (4th Grade). We will roll out another trunk in late summer for 1st graders, will make our Cranes in the Classroom (2nd grade) “to-go”, and we have future plans to update our Woods Creek Fen outdoor classroom for middle schoolers.

The Land Trust will continue to seek out opportunities to connect with and educate the youth in our region so that future generations may know the beauty and importance of the natural world around us, so that they may love it and protect it.

For more information about our Teacher Trunks or Youth Education, please visit our Education page here on our website or reach out to Hilary at hilary@tetonlandtrust.org.

Photo  by Rick Budde (2012)

Land Trust and longtime Teton Valley family protect scenic farmland and wetland habitat

Teton Regional Land Trust (TRLT) and the Kearsley family recently closed on an 80-acre conservation easement that protects the family’s farm and preserves scenic open space, important wetland habitat, and a portion of two streams within the Teton River watershed. Thanks to the Kearsley family, the iconic scenic view as you enter Teton Valley coming over Pine Creek Pass on Highway 31 will remain that way. The property has been farmed by the Kearsley family for more than 100 years and this will allow them to continue that tradition.  David Kearsley worked closely with the Land Trust on the easement. “We appreciate working with TRLT on this project. Funds received through the conservation easement will allow us to keep the property in the family and keep the agricultural usage. There have been five generations of family members who have operated the farm. We look forward to having many more.”

The farm is surrounded by other private lands that were previously protected by conservation easements, making the Kearsley farm an important piece of the conservation puzzle in the Teton Valley’s south end.  Significant ecological connections tie the farm to more than 12,340 acres of other TRLT conserved properties in Teton County, as well as a number of other protected properties and public lands. Protecting the wetland and riparian habitats on the farm adds to the conservation of resources that are important for native plants, fish, and wildlife in Teton Valley, including the Greater Sandhill Crane, Long-billed Curlew, and Swainson’s Hawk.

“The Kearsley family is leaving in place a conservation legacy on the landscape that will be intact for many more generations to come.” said Josh Holmes, TRLT’s Land Protection Specialist who led this project to completion, “I can’t thank them enough for that.”

The property’s wetland attributes and the streams that flow through the farm are important contributors to the health and function of the Teton River. These features join other water sources to form the headwaters of the Teton River, which provides habitat for native fish such as the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The wetland, floodplains, and riparian habitats within the Teton River watershed are vital to the protection of wildlife populations, nutrient cycling, water quality, erosion control, and groundwater discharge. Protection of the Kearsley farm, as well as other lands within the Teton River corridor, is an important part of securing long-term conservation of these precious resources. “Well-managed family farms and ranches play a critical role in protecting and conserving clean water, healthy streams, and a thriving wild fishery in the Teton River Watershed. Friends of the Teton River is thrilled to have been able to help bring funding support to this project”, Amy Verbeten, Executive Director of Friends of the Teton River.

In 2017, TRLT, Friends of the Teton River, and LegacyWorks Group succeeded in acquiring funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Idaho to support conservation work in Teton Valley as part of the NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Within the RCPP, the NRCS made federal matching funds available to support conservation easements in Teton Basin through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Because the Kearsley farm met the conservation goals of the Teton Basin RCPP by protecting farmland and natural resources beneficial to the health of the Teton River and wildlife species, TRLT was able to secure NRCS support through ACEP.

“NRCS is excited to welcome this parcel into ACEP,” said Wade Brown, Easement Coordinator for NRCS Idaho. “It provides a long-term grazing management program that will, in turn, improve wetland and riparian habitat. That, along with its location within the Teton Basin made it a perfect fit for our easement program.”

Conservation of the Kearsley farm builds on the protection of already conserved valley habitat and working lands that benefits both people and wildlife. For 30 years, the Land Trust has worked with partner organizations and willing landowners to protect more than 37,000 acres in east Idaho through conservation easements and other voluntary conservation options. An ACEP conservation easement allows for farming and ranching of properties, as well as limited residential construction. It also permanently limits the amount and type of future development.

Wray & Lani Landon and the Wray Landon Legacy Fund

Honoring our close friend and coworker Wray Landon IV, a memorial fund has been created to extend the conservation and stewardship work he loved. Wray passed away while skiing on the South Teton Sunday, February 21, 2010. Teton Regional Land Trust lost a valuable employee and friend that day. Honoring the wishes of Wray’s family, the Land Trust created the “Wray Landon Legacy Fund.” Gifts made to this fund go towards furthering the great work Wray did with the Teton Regional Land Trust.

Wray was a skilled naturalist and biologist who developed an impressive understanding of the natural systems of the Upper Snake River Watershed. He applied his knowledge with fervor and skill towards the stewardship of conservation easement lands. His field work and knowledge of the resources helped guide the permanent projects in partnership with landowners to protect their land. His good sense and courtesy endeared him to the landowners with whom the Land Trust worked, helping build strong relationships essential to the conservation of private lands. His surveys of Yellowstone cutthroat redds, Sandhill Cranes in Teton Valley, song-birds on the South Fork, and waterfowl along the Henry’s Fork, added to the knowledge of wildlife resources in eastern Idaho.

To Date (Feb 2020), $130,046 has been raised in honor of Wray’s Legacy:

  • $88,031 has been contributed directly to the Wray Landon Legacy Fund
  • Since 2010, the Land Trust has also hosted the Wrun for Wray which combined Wray ‘s love for adventure with his commitment to conservation. This event has raised an additional $9,947 from race fees and event fundraising.
  • Local businesses and individuals have provided $19,327 in cash sponsorships and in-kind donations to support the race, raffle, and prizes.

$62,308 from the fund has supported the following activities and projects:

  • Matching funds for land protection projects in Teton Valley
  • Summer internship program
  • Fence removal projects
  • Ecological monitoring including Yellowstone cutthroat trout, Sandhill Cranes, and songbirds
  • Support to hire a new full-time position of Land Manager
  • Educational materials and platform at Wood’s Creek Fen
  • Capacity to complete the North American Wetland Conservation grant
  • Habitat restoration projects
  • Wrun for Wray 2009-2019

$67,738 of the fund is held to advance special opportunities.

“We are so very grateful to everyone who has donated to Wray’s Legacy Fund in the past and to those who continue to remember Wray every year. It puts a smile on our faces and gives us a big lift when we hear someone has donated again. We think of Wray every day and miss him dearly. It’s so important to us to have something so positive as his Legacy Fund to help continue the work he loved so much at the Land Trust. We know he would be excited to see the completion of the Teton Creek Corridor Project.

The Land Trust has been wonderful to partner with on Wray’s Legacy Fund. They consistently target meaningful projects and activities for support by the Fund. 

In the past ten years, we have met so many wonderful people who knew and worked with Wray. He lived a simple life in Teton Valley but he was happy and rich in his friendships. This makes us feel very good.” – Wray and Lani Landon

Wray and Lani were recognized with our 3oth Anniversary Volunteer Appreciation Award. 

Wray Landon Legacy Fund Supporters

Kira Appelhans
Kristi & Tony Appelhans
Jessica Avizinis
Laura & Ralph Belleville
James & Susan Berkenfield
Ellen & Nicholas Besobrasov
Kim & Zahan Billimoria
Jim Bjorken
Trish & Mike Boyd
Niel & Sue Bratton
Tim & Wendy Brockish
Anne Bryant
Tom Carmody
Rob & Katie Cavallaro
Kim & Joyce Childs
Clifford & Dot Coddington
Justin Coleman
Janelle Constantino
Catherine Crowder
Tracy Delamater
Joe Dennis
Jim & Karin Desser
Glenn Devoe
James & Sherry Dokos
Kathy Dolan
Harold & Kaye Dunn
Marty & Patricia Edwards
Constance & Gary Forney
David & Debbie Fosdick
Steven & Barbara Frank
James & Joan Garza
Lisa Gaskey
Anthony Gould
Van Gould
Frederick & Neccia Hahn
Hamill Family Foundation
Lisa Hamilton
Glen & Barb Hayes
Michael & Margaret Hinman
Susan & Lynn Holt
Evan & Anita Honeyfield
Idaho Falls Ski Club
Idaho National Laboratory
Glenn Janss
Kelly Canyon Ski Team
LeeAnne Landon
Bruce & Atsuko Landon
Jane Landon
Wray & Lani Landon
Miles La Rowe
Bill & Deborah Leake
Christine Leusch
Alex & Francine Lheritier
Betty Ann Limpert
Dennis & Shelly Lowe
Matt Lucia
Bob & Anna Lugar
Veronica Lujan
Bob & Debbie Malheiro
Sandy & Mary Mason
Roger & Pamela Mayes
Ken & Barbara McIntosh
Faith McKinney
Anne Meade
Sylvia Medina
Connie Mohr
Loretta Moses
AJ & Jeff Mousseau
Carolyn Neblett
David & Marcia Nigg
Mary Noble
Brett Novak
Brian & Beverly Novak
Cheryl & Barry O’Brien
Donald & Cathy Ormond
Anne Pagenstecher
Carol Perry
Gary & Jen Price
Jerry & Barbara Reese
Dave & Linda Reinke
Tim Reynolds & Patty Isaeff
Karen Rice
David & Marjorie Robinson
Clint & Sherrie Rohner
Thomas & Elise Rothamel
Wayne Sander
Dean & Mimi Scofield
Bonnie & Doug Self
DL & JB Sharp
Bill Smith & Adonia Henry
Kathy Smolik
Soderquist Family
Tamara Sperber
Peter & Lenore Stepanishen
Teton Valley Trails & Pathways
Mike TenEyck
Babette Thorpe & John Rice
Clyde Toole
John & Tiff VanOrman
Clint & Gini Van Siclen
Anne Voilleque
Kimmon Richards & Douglas Whatmore
Kent & Jen Werlin
Ethan & Anne Winter
Nancy Winter
David & Susie Work
Dave & Pam Worthington
Felix & Joyce Zajac
Monica & Richard Zimmerman

Wrun for Wray Supporters

460 Bread     
Broulim’s
Brownings Honey
Casual Custom Graphics
Cottonwood Dental Care
Get Baked Prepared Food Emporium
Grand Targhee Resort
Grand Teton Brewing
Grand Teton Distillery
Great Harvest
Guchiebird’s
High Country Bloomers
Idaho Falls Arts Council
Idaho Mountain Trading
Kathy Dolan
Knotty Pine
Lani & Wray Landon
Liquid Hardware
Liquor Market
MD Nursery
Momentous
O’Rourke’s
Papa Murphy’s
Peaked Sports
Play Clean Go campaign
Post Register
Roadhouse Brewing Co
Sam’s Club
SIBBZ Industries LLC
Smith Honda
Snake River Printing
Streubel Physical Therapy
Teton Thai
Teton Trail Runners
Teton Valley Health Care
Teton Regional Land Trust
Victor Emporium
Victor Valley Market
Westside Yard
Yostmark Mountain Equipment

A Conversation with Michael Whitfield

Reflecting Back Looking Forward

Expressing gratitude for the people, partnerships, and places that have made our work possible.

Lower Henry’s Fork Conservation

Mike and Sheralee Lawson were recognized as Ed Hill Conservation Award recipients this year during our 30th Anniversary Celebration for their Henry’s Fork conservation easement. You can watch their interview with Jeske Grave, our Development Director, below. Teton Regional Land Trust and Mike and Sheralee Lawson partnered to complete a conservation easement on Friday, December 28, 2018.  This 44-acre property in Parker, Idaho includes ¾ of a mile of Henry’s Fork river frontage and an upland bench which is in agricultural production. The property lies in a complex of protected property bordered by the Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Department of Fish and Game owned lands. It is also across the river from other privately-owned conservation easement properties. The property’s farmland, grass meadows, cottonwoods, and willow riparian areas provide habitat for a wide variety of big game, water bird, songbird, raptor, and wild and native trout species. Notable species that will benefit from this land protection include Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagle, Wild Turkey, cougar, moose, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo-which is listed as threatened by the Endangered Species Act.

As the founder of Henry’s Fork Anglers 42 years ago and current general manager, Mike Lawson is an avid fly fisherman who values conservation of the Henry’s Fork River.  Lawson said, “It’s the right thing to do. It’s about maintaining a way of life. Ensuring farming and ranching remains part of the landscape. We wanted to conserve the property to be a part of maintaining the character of the area. Having grown up in the area, I’ve seen the development happen slowly over time, but in recent years I’ve really come to see how much of the farmland, ranchland, and wildlife habitat has been lost to development.”

Mike and Sheralee both grew up in the Parker area.  The property is special to them both as individuals and as a couple.  For Sheralee, a fourth-generation area resident, the property has a significant meaning. Her dad grew up in Parker and would often spend time fishing the area river bottoms. She likes to think that maybe her dad walked across this very property in his youth.  Mike has floated this section of the Henry’s Fork for over 40 years and he has long admired this stretch of the river for brown trout fishing.  Just downstream of the property at the Fort Henry monument, Mike proposed to Sheralee along the Henry’s Fork many years ago.  When they saw the property listed for sale, they knew it was important to conserve this special place to ensure the wildlife habitat remains intact and not developed.  Mike and Sheralee’s kids are also supportive of their parent’s decision to protect the property with a conservation easement.

“It was wonderful to work with the Lawsons. Their family history in the region and lifelong love of the Henry’s Fork make it especially meaningful to work with them to protect this special property for generations to come,” said Joselin Matkins, Teton Regional Land Trust’s Executive Director.

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization, such as the Land Trust, that limits certain uses of the land, like large scale development, in order to conserve the natural and traditional values of the land. Landowners grant conservation easements to protect the resources of their property for perpetuity while retaining the rights of private ownership. Conservation easements stay with the land forever. This conservation project was accomplished through a partnership between the Land Trust and the landowners. Funding for this project came from the Teton Regional Land Trust’s Eastern Idaho River Conservation Fund and a donation from Mike and Sheralee Lawson.

 

More Open Space Protected Along the Teton Creek Corridor

Last week, the Teton Regional Land Trust (TRLT) and Teton County, Idaho completed the most recent conservation easement along the Teton Creek Corridor. The property borders Teton Creek north of Cemetery Road and was once a proposed site for Teton County’s new Road and Bridge Facility. After deciding not to build there, the county considered selling the property to help finance a new site but decided instead to work with the Teton Creek Collaborative (TCC) to protect the property from future development by selling a conservation easement. The proceeds will be used to help fund the new Road and Bridge facility without having to sell public land along Teton Creek.  The property will remain in Teton County ownership with a conservation easement held by Teton Regional Land Trust. The conservation easement preserves the open space along the Teton Creek Corridor and allows for public access along a gravel pathway. The intended recreational uses for the pathway include biking, walking, and horseback riding with a winter closure to provide secure and undisturbed habitat for wintering big game. “Teton County is proud to be a partner in this collaborative effort to restore and conserve the Teton Creek Corridor for the benefit of our community,” said Cindy Riegel, Teton County, Idaho County Commissioner.

Over a one-half mile of Teton Creek flows through the property. Mature cottonwoods, aspens, and other riparian shrubs line the creek corridor. The property’s natural features also include sagebrush steppe which provides habitat for a number of wildlife species including wintering elk, white-tailed deer, and moose. Mountain lions, black bears, and other mammals frequent the creek corridor, and the area supports raptor species such as Great Gray Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Bald Eagle, along with numerous songbirds. “For a relatively small property, it has quite a bit of Teton Creek frontage, which is great for both the scenery and wildlife habitat value.  Conserving this property keeps it free from residential and industrial development while providing a unique opportunity for the community to recreate in a natural setting close to town while limiting winter public access to benefit wildlife,” said Renee Hiebert, TRLT.

The Teton Creek Collaborative, a partnership that includes the Teton Regional Land Trust, Friends of the Teton River (FTR), Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD), Teton Valley Trails and Pathways (TVTAP), and LegacyWorks Group (LWG) formed in 2015 to work with other interested non-profits, municipalities, and community members to fulfill the vision put forth in the Teton County Comprehensive Plan. This vision aligned with the goals of the TCC including habitat protection and restoration, farmland protection, public pathway, and incentive-based options to reduce development within and along the corridor. “Less than two years ago, an industrial facility was proposed on this site. Now it is protected forever. This is the result of determination, collaboration, and community-driven conservation,” said Shawn Hill, VARD.

The project conserves open space for the general public to enjoy the property’s natural surroundings and the Teton Creek trail system. Establishing the public pathway along Teton Creek has been years in the making. Since 2015 TCC has been working with private property owners, Teton County, and the City of Driggs to negotiate and establish a public pathway easement between Cemetery and Stateline Roads. Once the access easements were in place, TCC, led by Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, set out to raise funds for pathway construction.

This past year, the pathway was constructed through Teton County’s property and the Land Trust’s land upstream of Cemetery Road. The partners are still working to raise the funds to connect the path all the way to Stateline Road, but are excited to share that the trail will be opening in 2021 once winter range closures are lifted. In working to balance habitat protection for wildlife with public access for our community, the pathway has been sited along the upland bench and outside the corridor to provide safety and security for wildlife. The pathway will be closed during the winter to ensure animals, like the wintering elk, have a secure space free of disturbance during that critical time for their survival.

“During the summer 2020 construction season, TVTAP completed 1.6 miles of finished gravel pathway. In 2021 TVTAP will complete the final 0.4 miles of the pathway. Work also will begin on a pedestrian bridge over Teton Creek to improve pathway connectivity and safety between Ski Hill and Cemetery Roads,” said Dan Verbeten, TVTAP.

Since this collaboration began, significant progress has been made, collectively achieving impressive results including in-stream restoration of Teton Creek, permanent protection of over 300 acres, and the establishment of pathway connectivity between Driggs and Stateline Road. Achieving the goals of the TCC is a balancing act, and the collaborative has worked hard to incorporate the desire of the community to have the ability to access nature close to Driggs while also protecting habitat for wildlife, improving flood protection, and sustaining open space and productive agricultural lands. “It’s incredible to realize how much progress has been made on this project in such a short time. At Friends of the Teton River, we are really excited about the way this project will make it possible for people to connect with the Teton Creek corridor, and to learn about all of the community benefits of protecting healthy, functioning stream channels and floodplains,” said Amy Verbeten, FTR. The Teton Creek Collaborative is excited to welcome the community to the site when the pathway opens this spring once the winter closure is lifted. For more information visit tetoncreekproject.org.

The LOR Foundation has taken a lead role in empowering the community organizations to make this project possible through their generous financial support of this conservation easement. Additional support for the conservation easement came from an agreement between Grand Targhee Resort and Teton County, Wyoming. Numerous other granting entities and individual donors including the Community Foundation of Teton Valley have generously supported other aspects of the project. “Many thanks to the visionary funders, government partners, and nonprofit leaders in our community and beyond who made this all possible. From the LOR Foundation’s initial support to all the private and public funding that followed from there, the Teton Creek Corridor project brought millions of dollars into the valley to achieve one of the community’s long-standing goals – protecting wildlife and agriculture, restoring habitat, and creating recreational access and safe pathways,” said Carl Palmer, LWG.

Wildlife Photos in Teton Creek Corridor by Marty Edwards

Homesteading Family leaves Legacy Along the South Fork – Koon Family Story

When a family homesteads a property and is able to pass the land down to future generations, the ties to the land are strong.  And when the land lies along the beautiful banks of the South Fork of the Snake River, the motivation to conserve the land can be even stronger.  This was the case with the Koon Family.

Jack E. Koon and his son Jack Lee contacted the Teton Regional Land Trust in the early 2000s.  With such a stunning piece of land along the South Fork, they’d received vast interest over the years from realtors looking to buy and develop their family property.  Although they could have used the money, they did not want to part with the land.  Jack E.’s grandfather had homesteaded the property in 1906.  He built a sod house on the land for his family and built granaries for his crops. He was able to keep enough of the ground intact to eventually pass it down to his grandson, Jack E. Koon.  Jack E. and his wife raised a family on the land and had fond memories of fishing and camping, especially at their favorite fishing hole on Bannock Jim Slough.  Jack Lee shared stories about growing up on the property and how he did not want to let it go.  The family was very proud of having held onto it during the Depression and during the Teton Dam collapse and flood; they all had strong family connections to the place.  Jack Lee said that for about 15 years, he kept his father from selling the property during hard financial times.  Jack Lee wanted the land to be a legacy to his father and his family.  He reiterated that the family had worked very hard to hang on to this land and tried to be good stewards; he wanted to see that the hard work paid off and was appreciated.  Jack E. and his son Jack Lee agreed to conserve their land in 2010 – they conserved nearly 200 acres.  And indeed, they were good stewards.  They battled weeds with annual weed control parties with the Land Trust and neighbors. They conserved the land’s South Fork river frontage and cattle pasture, as well as habitat for one of the strongest breeding areas for nesting Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, prolific songbirds, rare orchids, and native trout.  And while Jack E.’s health was not conducive to joining annual Land Trust visits, his son Jack Lee always took time out of his busy schedule from his work at the post office to join the staff to share a proud walk on his land.

In recent years, the annual Land Trust visit would include Jack Lee’s aunt, Carol Koon; Carol is the only living sister-in-law of Jack E. Koon’s family. One of Carol’s favorite things to do was ride with Jack Lee in his pick-up to see what she could see on the ride down to the river and across hers and Jack Lee’s properties, she said “We would always see a few deer, either white-tailed or mule deer; quite often we would see a moose or two, and we would see many Bald Eagles and Blue Herons. Depending on the time of year we would see pheasants, ducks, and geese.” Carol reflects on her ties to the land and family, after moving to Idaho in September 2015, and writes: “The first year I stayed with my niece, Anita, mid-August through mid-December 2015. Each day I was there I looked across Anita’s on to my property and thought “one day I am going to have my own home right over there’; I could just imagine my home over there just like my husband Bill and I planned. The second-year I rented, brother-in-law, Bob’s trailer. I planned weekend dinners so I could get acquainted with different family members. My husband Bill was a professional chef and together for 30 years we cooked in Colorado, Arizona, and California. Bill passed away on October 23, 1996.  After Bill passed, I homeschooled our grandsons, Justis and Radigan, from pre-school through high school. I started making plans to move to Idaho in 2015. After moving to Idaho, I realized that I was not going to be able to put a home on my property and wanted to leave the property to my two grandsons, Justis and Radigan. I love this beautiful property.”

Jack E. passed away in 2018 not long after his 90th birthday. Jack Lee (son of Jack E.) passed away on December 17, 2019, in his early 60s, leaving a legacy not only for his father; but, for his sister Doris M. Hansen and their family.

Jack Lee and Jack E. Koon signing their conservation easement in 2010.

Overall, the family conserved approximately 3/4 mile of South Fork riverfront as well as Bannock Jim Slough at the confluence of two iconic rivers; the South Fork and the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, which is home to one of the most robust cottonwood galleries left in North America. The cottonwood canopy forest, including wetlands and upland habitat within the South Fork and lower Henry’s Fork river corridors, is one of the most unique and biologically diverse ecosystems in Idaho and is a stronghold for endangered Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The wetlands of this area are the first major stopover for waterbirds migrating north of the Great Salt Lake, providing critical resting and foraging areas for a half-million waterfowl and several hundred thousand other waterbird species.

Thank you, Koon Family, for your perseverance and vision to conserve this remarkable and irreplaceable landscape. We appreciate your legacy.

 

 

 

Teton Regional Land Trust celebrates 30 years

By Julia Tellman, Teton Valley News

The Teton Regional Land Trust, founded in August of 1990, now oversees 36,400 acres of land in conservation easements split among 132 landowners in its six-county eastern Idaho service area (with some spill-over into neighboring states). But Michael Whitfield, a founding member of the nonprofit who also served as executive director for 17 years, remembers closing on the very first easement.

It took almost five years.

“Land trusts were not a well-known concept back then,” Whitfield said. “I went to a presentation in Jackson put on by the High Country News in ’88 and it was the first I’d heard of land trusts.”

At the turn of the decade, there was a real estate boom and the valley was in the throes of land use planning controversy (some things never change). Whitfield and other community members held sessions at which people defined the qualities that made Teton Valley special. The Teton River and its surrounding wetlands and tributaries were at the top of the list. The TRLT started small, originally known as the Teton Valley Land Trust.

“Landowners were pretty apprehensive about easements,” Whitfield remembered. “It’s a huge commitment to leave that legacy in place forever.”

Finally, in January of 1995, TRLT signed an easement on a piece of property on Teton Creek, the culmination of “many deliberate and intense conversations over a kitchen table,” as Whitfield put it.

“Sometimes we’d engage with a family for ten years before they decided on that path,” he continued. “Then they’d become ambassadors for conservation easements—people would watch them to see how it went.”

Whitfield said that building those life-long relationships has been his favorite part about the land trust. He remembers visiting property along the Snake River, making exciting waterfowl discoveries on easements, and giving farmers the guarantee that their land would never be developed.

The land trust’s earliest easements were all donated, meaning the owners protected the land in exchange for tax incentives. Now in the majority of projects, the land trust buys the development rights or buys the land outright.

“It’s always incentive-based,” explained current TRLT executive director Joselin Matkins. “We’re not asking people to give their greatest asset away just for the public good.”

As the number of properties overseen by TRLT increases, the organization splits its time and resources between pursuing new land and maintaining existing projects.

“We find that it usually takes us twice as much time and energy as we expect to ensure landowners are meeting the terms of their perpetual contract,” Matkins said.

While Whitfield and Matkins don’t view any one project as the pinnacle of TRLT’s accomplishments, they both feel that the Six Springs Ranch, where the land trust office is located, is representative of the bigger picture of Teton Valley conservation. The ranch, a collection of three easements, encompasses pasture that the nonprofit leases for grazing, several Teton River tributaries, rich wildlife habitat, and one of the most productive cutthroat trout spawning areas in the valley.

“I’m always amazed that over half the river corridor and its wetlands are protected, through 70 different owners,” Matkins said. “That speaks to the landscape-scale impact on the protection of a resource, and to the founders’ focus on the most important resources in the region.”

In addition to its work in Teton Valley, TRLT also has projects all along the South Fork and Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and in Island Park. Future regional projects include the Tex Creek area east of Idaho Falls and the High Divide west of Island Park. Both of those areas are essential winter range for ungulates and key to maintaining the connectivity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“We’re sitting in one of the largest intact ecosystems left in the world, and we need to strike that balance and have a functional landscape with a whole suite of species still living here, and pass on the legacy of this iconic place,” Matkins said.

This August to celebrate the 30th anniversary, TRLT had hoped to hold a Taste of the Tetons, a popular culinary event that began in 1997, but that celebration will have to be postponed until next year. Instead, TRLT will hold a week-long virtual event starting on Aug. 21, with a series of special volunteer and land steward awards as well as videos featuring stories from landowners. The week will culminate on Aug. 27 with an online auction and keynote speech from Mark Elsbree of the Conservation Fund.

Every year the TRLT gives the Ed Hill Conservation Award to a person or group that has made a significant conservation impact, and this year’s recipients are landowners.

“It’s a way to acknowledge that incredible vision and commitment to maintaining the integrity of the landscape, working lands, and wildlife habitat,” Matkins said.

It’s not only the landowners who support TRLT; Matkins said she’s always amazed by the people who don’t own land but make donations because they value the mission and the agency and nonprofit partners who join forces to effect change.

“It’s really meaningful to me how people come together to protect land. We work with so many people with different backgrounds and views, but a love of the land is a shared value that transcends short-term differences,” she said.

Teton Regional Land Trust Board President John Nedrow took some convincing, but now he’s a big believer in conservation easements – it saved his family farm

Story and Photos by Steve Stuebner

Before knowing much about land trusts, Ashton farmer John Nedrow thought they were some kind of sinister force seeking to take over his farm and force landowners off their property.

“Back then, I thought they were the enemy,” Nedrow said in an interview on his alfalfa and malt-barley farm, which straddles the banks of the famed Henrys Fork River, a blue-ribbon trout stream. “I thought they wanted to turn this whole area into national park.”

But then one of Nedrow’s neighboring farmers, who was a Teton Regional Land Trust board member, shared some of the potential benefits of working with the land trust, including the possibility of getting a nice chunk of change to protect his farm from being subdivided or turned into a shopping mall.

The Nedrow family was struggling to make ends meet at the time, the late 1990s, he said. They had had several bad years in a row – poor commodity prices and poor yields. They had incurred some debt in the early 1980s to upgrade equipment and put in a new irrigation system. They were having a hard time covering the debt.

On top of that, the local Coors malt-barley plant had been recently shut down after being a dependable buyer of malt-barley, bringing a consistent source of revenue. “That really took the wind out of our sails,” Nedrow says.

Nedrow contacted the Teton Regional Land Trust staff to schedule an appointment and learn more.  His son, Greg, was home from the University of Idaho. They talked about the potential benefits of a conservation easement on a portion of their 840-acre farm, a portion on the banks of the Henrys Fork with primo fish and wildlife values.

Cash from the deal could help put his two sons through college, pay off his debts, and allow him to make some additional investments in the farm. A national Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program under the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) gave farmers the option to sell their development rights while allowing them to retain ownership.

The Teton Regional Land Trust put the deal together, and within 6-7 months, Nedrow received payment for the conservation easement. “It was exciting to get that check,” he says with a big grin. “It let us get our feet back under us. It let us keep going and make a decent living.”

Today, Nedrow is Board President of the Teton Regional Land Trust. His story is still as relevant as ever as Idaho’s oldest land trust celebrates 30 years of conservation in 2020.

In essence, the conservation purchase saved the Nedrow family farm, and the family rests easier now, knowing that their farm is safe in their hands and never will be subdivided. “It would take a man down to see something like this destroyed,” he says. “The river and the land are part of our family.”

The Nedrows signed the first conservation easement in 2002. They added a second easement in 2003 with an additional 300 acres under the North American Wetland Conservation Act grants program.

“I like that we continue to own our property, even though it’s protected by a conservation easement,” said Sheila Nedrow, John’s wife. “It’s an easement, so we need to protect those conservation values. We can’t destroy the habitat, but we’d never want to do that anyway. But still, it’s our land to manage and continue to produce for our farm.”

The Nedrows also continue to pay taxes on their farm property, continuing their contribution to the local tax base in Fremont County.

Over the last three decades, the Teton Regional Land Trust has protected over 36,000 acres of working lands and habitat in six counties in Eastern Idaho, including 53 miles of the Teton, South Fork of the Snake, and Henrys Fork rivers, involving 166 properties and 133 partner landowners. Their list of accomplishments is long and impressive as the state’s oldest land trust organization.

On a beautiful east Idaho evening at Nedrow’s farm, we saw ospreys flying overhead with a fresh catch in their talons, the Henrys Fork flowing by, kingfishers squawking in the bushes, a few anglers fly-fishing, and a prize sighting of four otters swimming by in the river.

“Whoa, I’ve never seen four otters at one time, that’s cool!” said Kate Nedrow, who is the wife of John’s son, Greg.

Greg and Kate are now helping run the Nedrow farm while operating a dry grain farm they have taken over from relatives in Kate’s family. Greg reflected, “putting the land under conservation easement started as a means to an end. Now almost two decades later, it is about the legacy we have created for our family and for the future.”

John Nedrow also became a believer in open space and conservation after serving on the Fremont Planning and Zoning Commission. He watched farmland get gobbled up by trophy homes and subdivisions. He noticed that growth doesn’t always pay its way, and local taxes often have to go up to cover the increased costs of roads and services to serve newcomers.

The 2007-2010 Great Recession slowed down the growth, but ever since then, development pressures have ramped up again, putting more open space and wildlife habitat at risk in this scenic corner of Idaho, which lies in the shadows of the Grand Teton and the Teton Mountain Range.

“The threat posed by development is very real. There’s no way we can compete with the money that developers pay for farm and ranch land,” says Joselin Matkins, Executive Director of the Teton Regional Land Trust. “At the same time, we know that ranchers and farmers in this region own working lands that provide value to our agricultural economy and wildlife habitat. Situated within the world-famous Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states, we have the opportunity to work with landowners to safeguard family farms and ranches and maintain the integrity of this iconic ecosystem including the world-renowned fisheries of the Henrys Fork and South Fork of the Snake Rivers We have to protect these really special places.”

In the Ashton farm country, that means protecting farms and open space and keeping working lands, working. Looking ahead, Nedrow wants to spread the word about the benefits of working with the Teton Regional Land Trust, telling his story to more farmers who might fear the same things he did back in the day. Matkins says that’s critical.  “Landowners need to know that their property rights are always protected, no matter what,” she says. “No one is ever going to force anyone to sign a conservation easement. It’s always up to them what they want to do with their property.

“When you work with a landowner for several years on protecting their property from development, you know that they have their own very personal reasons for realizing a lifetime dream and making an impact. It’s very rewarding and really cool at closing to see how much it means to them.”

Steve Stuebner is a Boise-based professional writer who specializes in conservation success stories. Funding for this story was made possible by the national Land Conservation Assistance Network www.landcan.org