A Family’s Conservation Legacy on Fox Creek

My late husband, Blaine, was an Idaho boy. He and his brother grew up in and around Pocatello in the 1940s and 50s where their father was a school teacher. As boys, they fished any creek they could reach by bicycle. Though the family later moved away, Blaine always looked for reasons to return to his favorite landscape. Later in life, he started traveling to Teton Valley for fishing trips with the Teton Valley Lodge. Once he was able, he bought a small cabin next to the Lodge. That became our family retreat for a good many happy years. Along the way, a friend and fishing guide introduced him to Fox Creek Ranch, and that is when our adventure began.

Fox Creek was a working ranch with summer pasture, a hay crop, and a spring creek flowing through the middle before joining the Teton River. I hadn’t even seen the property when Blaine announced to me that we were buying it. I was startled, of course, but his excitement at the prospect of ready access to the creek overshadowed my concerns, at least until my first visit. It was hard to see the place the way he did. Yes, it had a certain charm and pastoral quality. There were cows and lovely, undulating lines of fresh-cut hay. There were beautiful views of the Tetons, but the spring creek looked like it was in rough shape. Still, it would be a refuge for our family, a place we could fish with our kids, where they could discover nesting birds hidden among the grasses, and experience the majesty of stars on a clear night.

That summer, we came to understand that our little spring creek had a heap of problems. It was badly silted up, with steep collapsing banks and almost no cover. Where had all the willows gone? About the same time, we began to hear concerns from our fishing friends about the Teton River– fishermen were still catching the big fish that have made the Teton famous, but the smaller fish had gone missing. (Later studies showed a 95% decline in the endemic Yellowstone cutthroat trout.) Their absence pointed straight back to the Teton’s spawning tributaries, one of was which Fox Creek.

In no time at all what began as a romantic notion of a pretty ranch graced with a spring creek, became a major restoration project. It was an odyssey that along the way, transformed our family and our relationship to the land.

When we began, we really had no idea of the scope of the undertaking, the underlying science, or the regulatory world. Let’s just say, we learned a thing or two. We began as earnest landowners, and by the time we finished – thirteen years later– we had made new friends, broadened our vocabulary, and gained a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of water, land, and wildlife.

Those new friends included the Friends of the Teton River and the very capable people at the Teton Regional Land Trust and Ducks Unlimited. They put us in touch with scientists, stream specialists, and plant and fishery biologists. Foremost among them was Scott Gillilan (Gillilan Assoc), a biologist and hydrologist, whose pioneering restoration methods made all the difference. Scott and the Land Trust guided us through an alphabet soup of regulatory agencies: Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and The Army Corps of Engineers, to name just a few. We worked with different contractors, but happily settled on Arlin Grimes (Aqua Terra Restoration) here in Driggs–because he not only understood the vision, but he had an almost intuitive understanding of stream hydrology.

Through our many, many, many meetings with these agencies and their hard-working professional staff, we learned about stream form and speed-of-flow, and pool-riffle-run bedform geometry. The Land Trust staff helped us to understand the broader concept of riparian corridors. The fisheries biologists educated us about the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, its habitat, the need to restore spawning gravels, and concerns with competing species.

From Ducks Unlimited, we learned about the importance of migratory birds, native wetland grasses, and the threat of invasive plant species. A wetland plant materials specialist from Aberdeen, Idaho, taught us about willow varieties, explaining their propagation, and value for bank stabilization. Along the way, Blaine’s son, Beach, who had been all across the world as a river guide, came home to join us. He became a willow expert in his own right as he guided teams of hardy volunteers from the Land Trust, Grand Targhee, and around the valley to harvest and transplant over 20,000 native willow cuttings and almost 1,000 trees and shrubs.

We began to observe and identify the many bird species around us. Alongside the pros, we measured sediment, and turbidity, and gravel matrices. We helped with fish counts and redd counts. And while doing all of that, we spent 3 years arguing with regulators to grant us permits for a kind of in-stream excavation that had never before been allowed in the Henry’s Fork Watershed.

Finally, with the help of an abundantly talented team of committed people, we succeeded.
We worked for thirteen years through four phases of permitting to restore more than two miles of Fox Creek and a half-mile of Little Fox Creek. We planted thousands of willows and other native vegetation. We excavated a series of three large wetland ponds, creating more than 30 acres of open water and marsh. All of this worked to the benefit of aquatic, riparian, wetland, and upland habitats.

How do we know what the hard work accomplished? In June 2019, Friends of the Teton River issued a report summarizing Teton River trout densities between 2003-2017. By their counts, Yellowstone cutthroat trout numbers went from 14 per mile to 936. All trout species went from 420 per mile to 3,867. We have seen otter and mink return to the creek. Increasing numbers and varieties of birds are nesting, foraging, and staging throughout the year.

We set out to transform a creek and along the way we transformed our family as well. Beach stayed on to manage the ranch and make his home in the valley. As we came to understand the roles of water, land, and wildlife, we modified our ranch practices to safeguard the land and water. Wildlife, especially fish and birds, responded. Because of our work together throughout the project, we turned to the Teton Regional Land Trust, and with them worked out our first conservation easement in 2007.

Part of Blaine’s legacy to his family was to instill in us a love for this land and a commitment to take care of it. We have been stewards of Fox Creek Ranch for 23 years. Last year our family put an additional 100 acres under easement to further protect this thriving riparian landscape. We are grateful to the Land Trust for working with us over the years, to help guide our restoration projects, and to help us preserve our land while maintaining it as a productive ranch. It has been an amazing adventure!

QnA with Tim Brockish – Board Member, Conservation Easement Landowner, and Trumpeter Swan Advocate

Why did you want to protect your land?

Wendy and I started off with 8 acres in 1994. We had moved to Idaho in 1985 due to a job opportunity. Seeking a place in the country, we had worked our way north from Idaho Falls to Rigby to our current location six miles west of Rexburg. We had responded to a little black and white ad in a real estate circular touting a place in the country with hundreds of trees. It turned out to be a double-wide on the Texas Slough, a tributary of the Lower Henry’s Fork with a big chunk of the eight acres underwater and an inaccessible peninsula. Wendy cried at first thinking she had talked me into buying a place in a swamp. Over time we learned what a unique wildlife habitat it is.  We have been devoted to it ever since.

The aging adjacent landowner widow, Bonnie Krause, who was also the original owner of our eight acres, was being approached in 2002 by people who wanted to buy her remaining 70 acres and build home sites.  Her son told her she should ask Tim and Wendy. Bonnie valued her family’s land and their personal history of living on it. Wendy worked with Bonnie to buy the land. Later their family asked to spread their ashes on the land when they passed.  We were honored.

Later another adjacent landowner made the fortunate decision to sell 40 of her acres in order to keep it natural rather than subdivide for houses.  That piece connected three easements into a contiguous segment.  All 110 acres are now under conservation easement.

How did you hear about Teton Regional Land Trust?

We were approached by Kim Goodman (Trotter) in 2004 when TLRT had a NAWCA grant for our area, the Lower Henry’s Fork, west of Rexburg.   Wendy’s parents were instrumental in starting a land trust in Wisconsin and so she was familiar with the concept.  We pledged a portion of our acreage and followed through with the easement in 2005.

How are you currently using your property?

About 80 acres is being farmed in alfalfa, barley, and grass hay by a local family. The rest is for habitat. The property includes about three-quarters of a mile of Texas Slough stream bank on both sides, some ponds converted from a rural trash dump, and hawthorn woods.  Wendy enjoys riding her donkeys, Hank and Pete, around the property with our dog Trip.

Years ago I heard an NPR story about a man who worked to improve the habitat value of his property.  He garnered great satisfaction from caring for it.  It is a never-ending challenge, but very satisfying when invasive weeds are kept at bay, trash is picked up, new trees and flowers are flourishing, and the native ones, like Woods Rose, have been liberated of the dead brush holding them down and ready to flourish again in spring.

What’s your favorite thing about your land?

The Texas Slough is the lifeblood of this property and its habitat.  The smaller Warm Slough joins the Texas Slough and provides spring-fed warm waters to keep the water open in winter.   The water table is only 15 feet deep at most, but sage and rabbitbrush flourish on the higher ground.  This place is an oasis in a high mountain desert.

What bird or animal do you get most excited to see on your land?

Each season brings the return of welcome visitors.  Now in spring, Tree Swallows are coming back to see if their nest boxes are still here.  In summer thousands will be here.

In winter the Trumpeter Swans fill the skies, the fields, and the unfrozen sloughs. They suddenly begin to arrive in small family groups in November, trumpeting their arrival.  Like flying angels, they are magnificent and exhilarating.  In 2015 thanks to the Fall River Electric power company, Idaho Fish and Game, conservation organizations, and concerned citizens, a mile’s worth of power line along the Texas Slough were buried.  The safety of the swans was ensured and the area transformed into more like a refuge.

Why did you choose to be on the Teton Regional Land Trust board of directors?

In 2012, we were in a battle to protect the Texas Slough upstream from us.  A young family wanted to put a bridge across the slough so that they could build a house and have their place in the country.  The area was prime moose and swan habitat.  Unfortunately, we lost that battle, and the bridge and house were built.  The experience galvanized my sense of purpose as a habitat-hugger.  Tim Hopkins of TRLT asked if I would join the board and I said yes.

What is the most rewarding aspect of serving on the board?

TRLT is a community of people who care.  I am inspired by the effort and perseverance.  I am thrilled that habitat, migration corridors, and living space is being safeguarded for the future.

Do you like to cook? If so, what’s your favorite meal to cook/eat?

I like to cook, partly out of necessity.  I am not a recipe cook, more of an ingredient combiner.  Since we have chickens thanks to Wendy, my go-to breakfast is a roasted pine nut upside down omelet with portabella mushrooms, spinach, and gruyere cheese on sourdough toast drizzled with truffle olive oil.  Quick and easy to make and delicious.

I recently was given some SCOBY and am regularly making kombucha.  We like to eat sauerkraut every night. My first attempt at sauerkraut failed, so I tried again and this time followed a recipe.

What do you do for fun?

I like being with our family, friends, and animals.  Cross-species communication and connection really get me excited.  When I see a video of a chimp hugging Jane Goodall in gratitude or a white beluga whale bringing a girl’s dropped iPhone back up to the boat, for me, that is just the best.

What’s your favorite plant, animal, bird, river?

Dogs are the best.  All life is special.

What do you never have enough time for?

I don’t like to dwell on that.  There is so much I am missing.

What inspires you?

Right now, I am just heartbroken about losing John Prine to COVID19.  I am a little late to the party, especially with his recent work. As I listen to his music and watch videos of his interviews and shows, especially later in life,  I am inspired by his humble humanity and joy of life.

 

Teton Full Circle Farm

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”

― Wendell Berry

Teton Full Circle Farm owners Erika Eschholz and Ken Michael own twenty acres of prime farmland just outside the City of Victor. Though this parcel could have easily sold for residential development, Erika and Ken saw prospect in the property to turn it into their dream farm and worked with Teton Regional Land Trust to place it under conservation easement in order to afford the land. The funds from the conservation easement payment went directly to pay off their farm loan which allowed them to put future farm-generated income into improving and expanding their farm. Additionally, if and when they sell the farmland it will be sold to a farmer at an agricultural land-use price because it cannot be developed, ensuring that the land stays affordable for the next farmer.

Teton Full Circle is a certified organic farm. Organic farms provide benefits to pollinator and insect species that are seeing population declines due to prevalent use of heavy pesticides and loss of habitat. Pollinators provide an essential ecosystem service that benefits agricultural producers, agricultural consumers, and gardeners. Protection of Teton Full Circle Farm will benefit pollinator species designated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game as Species of Greatest Conservation Need including: Hunt’s bumble bee, Morrison’s bumble bee, and Mason bee. Teton Full Circle Farm takes organic farming a step further with biodynamic farming practices. Organic and biodynamic farming are similar as both grow without chemicals and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs); moreover, biodynamic farming is a holistic practice where all things are considered living interrelated systems – animals, plants, soil, and the solar system. A farm is viewed as its own organism where everything it needs to thrive is produced onsite.

Teton Full Circle Farm has grown their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation on their new farm, providing local food for their community. They currently offer half-shares and full-shares of their delicious produce as well as an organic seasonal flower CSA. Buying from sustainable farms like Teton Full Circle supports local food, healthy ecosystems, and a strong community.

Photo by Camrin Dengel

Ken and Erika’s story, in their own words:

It is really no surprise we farm. We both grew up in families where much of the food we ate came from the backyard. From a young age we learned how to raise, care for, and take pride in a productive home garden. As we got older, we became more and more spoiled on an abundance of good things to eat. Gardening became a passion, a way of life.

We fell in love the summer of 2012. Erika, a seasoned farmer and gardener was in her fourth year as farm manager at Snowdrift Farm. Ken, an idealistic intern with big ideas was fresh out of college with his sights set on farming. We became inseparable. Sharing a propensity toward simple living, a deep appreciation for nature, and an incurable gardening fever, we embarked on a path to heal the earth through organic/biodynamic farming.

In 2013, we founded Erika Eschholz LLC doing business under the Snowdrift Farm name. After completing a successful season and becoming engaged in the fall, an irresistible opportunity arose at the former Blue Flax Farm. In spring, 2014 Teton Full Circle Farm was born.

From the beginning of Teton Full Circle Farm, we sought a place to sink our roots and call home. Though we loved simple living, our off-grid yurt life with no running water would take its toll. We considered buying our farm at Mountainside Village outright, but could not afford to purchase at development prices. We looked farther afield.

We identified four property purchase essentials to guide our land search: good soil, reliable water access, supportive community, and affordable land. In 2015, we visited a property in Greenville, West Virginia complete with rolling pastures and expansive woods, only to find that despite its incredible natural beauty it lacked a reliable water source and supportive community to buy the produce.

In February 2016 Erika’s parents found a dream farm for sale near their home in Maine. It was 90-acres of picturesque fields and woodland boasting a well-kept historic farm house, barns and outbuildings. Moreover, this farm was listed at below half its original market value thanks to the Maine Farmland Trust. In a novel strategy for conserving land, the Farmland Trust purchased the farm, placed an agricultural easement on the property and listed it without its development rights, making this idyllic farm not just affordable, but a screaming deal. It sounded too good to be true – and it was. Applications to purchase the farm closed the day before we called. Disappointed yet encouraged, we made contact with the Maine Farmland Trust to learn how agricultural easements make farmland affordable and protect it forever.

That spring we redoubled our efforts to find land out east. We scoured farm listings, made contact with land owners, and booked flights to Maine and Vermont. New England was charming and peaceful, but nowhere did we find all four of our criteria. We returned home heavy-hearted and back at square one. Our trip forced us to face the realities of moving and starting over across the country felt impossible. Meanwhile, our homecoming helped us realize how deeply we loved our community in the Tetons. How could we leave?

Then it happened. A few weeks after our return, the perfect property surfaced just one mile north (as the crow flies) of our present leased land in Victor, Idaho. “Hey Ken and Erika, I saw a piece of property over by my place you may be interested in. It sounds a lot like what you said you’re looking for,” wrote Scott Paulson via text one evening in early July. A few days later on the 4th we visited the farm and within minutes knew it was the one. It had good soil, solid irrigation water, and the same great community we loved, and a reasonable price relative to other properties we viewed. The only problem was that, despite being more reasonable than other properties, this land was listed at development prices, thus out of our reach.

After all we had gone through, money was not going to deter us and we immediately set our minds to making this farm a reality. We contacted the USDA Farm Service Agency to see if we were candidates for a low-interest loan. Check. We contacted the Teton Regional Land Trust to see if they could put an agricultural easement on this property. Check. Thus encouraged, we chipped away at months of negotiations with the seller and one massive loan application from the USDA Farm Service Agency in-between harvest days. After submitting dozens of mind-numbing financial and agricultural reports from the last three years, we were accepted for a mortgage loan. Fall came, the growing season ended, and on November 4th, 2016 our dream came true.

Gardening has been a part of us all of our lives and we finally have a place to carry out our vision. On this farm, we will build soil, increase biodiversity, improve human health, and create opportunities for new farmers to pursue their passions. On this farm, community members will learn, eat great food, share knowledge and skills, and spread love. We are on the brink of something momentous, but we need your help to get there. Life just isn’t as delicious without local food and local farms.


Teton Regional Land Trust was proud to work with Ken and Erika in making their land affordable and protected forever. This is a great example of how a conservation easement can benefit the whole community. For more information about Teton Full Circle Farm, please visit: www.tetonfullcirclefarm.org

Our Conservation Heroes

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Family Conservation on Fox Creek

“Our family has come to love this land. Enamored with its Teton views and spring creeks, we acquired the property in the late 1990s,” Nancy Huntsman shared with us. “In the spring before he passed away in 2012, my husband, Blaine, wrote to his family, ‘the land and its critters have increasingly enticed us with enduring experiences we couldn’t have foreseen when we began our journey.’ As a family, we made a deliberate choice toward stewardship and conservation. We hope that the expanded easements on Fox Creek Ranch will better protect the wildlife and rural values that originally beckoned us to Teton Valley.” The family has permanently conserved 220 acres of their Fox Creek Ranch and has significantly invested in restoring the land since taking ownership of the ranch about 30 years ago.

The Huntsman’s property adjoins almost 3,000 acres of permanently conserved private land held in easements by the Teton Regional Land Trust. It is also adjacent to 251 acres of land owned and managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, known as the Fox Creek East and West, which provide access points to the headwaters of the Teton River.

Historically, the ranch was used for livestock grazing and hay production, and today the property is still an operating ranch, but the restored riparian areas and wetlands are no longer grazed. Improving fish and wildlife habitat and associated recreation opportunities are principal goals of the Huntsman family. They have transformed the management of the property and have undertaken large-scale restoration to improve aquatic, riparian, wetland, and upland habitats.  The family has restored and enhanced over two miles of Fox Creek and a half-mile of Little Fox Creek, planted thousands of willows and other native plants along these creeks and has created a series of three wetland ponds.

Little Fox Creek is spring-fed and originates about one mile outside of the property and flows through the northern portion of the ranch before reaching Fox Creek which is a major tributary to the Teton River. Fox Creek is found to be crucial for the conservation of Yellowstone cutthroat trout (YCT) in the Teton Basin. It is one of only three large tributaries in the Teton Valley that still shelters the redds, spawning nests, of YCT. They are an important native fish species in the Greater Yellowstone providing a significant source of food for an estimated 16 species of birds and mammals including bear, river otter, and mink. Because their populations have declined throughout their natural range, state and federal wildlife agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations, have invested in their conservation. They also play an important role in east Idaho’s world-class trout fishery.

In addition to the creeks, a series of enhanced wetland ponds lie in the southern portion of the ranch. The primary function of the ponds was initially water storage. However, since the wetland ponds and associated vegetation have become well established over the past 12 years, they have come to provide significant wildlife habitat for many bird species. In addition to waterfowl, key species including Bobolink, Long-billed Curlew, Sandhill Crane, and Trumpeter Swan can be found thriving on Fox Creek Ranch’s ponds, creeks, and meadows.

Renee Hiebert, the Land Trust’s Conservation Specialist who has worked with the Huntsman family over the years, observed that “It’s encouraging to see how connection to a piece of land can inspire a family to think bigger picture; not just about the current generations, but also about the future generations and their relationship to the land, as well as the land’s future as a part of the family”. Current ownership of Fox Creek Ranch consists of eight Huntsman Family siblings and Nancy Huntsman.

Teton Regional Land Trust has worked with partner organizations and willing landowners for the last thirty years to protect over 36,000 acres through conservation easements and other voluntary conservation options. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that allows for continued private property ownership, farming and ranching of properties as well as limited residential construction, but permanently restricts the amount and type of future development.

Teton Regional Land Trust Seeks Reaccreditation

Stakeholder Notification/Public Notice

January 7, 2020

The land trust accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet
national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever.
The Teton Regional Land Trust is pleased to announce it is applying for re-accreditation. The
public comment period is now open.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance,
conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs. As the first Land Trust
accredited in Idaho, we are part of a network of 398 accredited land trusts across the nation
committed to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in its conservation
work. For the Teton Regional Land Trust, maintaining our accredited status shows our
the community we are committed to ensuring the highest standards for our conservation work and
demonstrates to our donors, landowners, and partners that we are a professional and
trustworthy partner in conservation.

Accredited land trusts must renew every five years, confirming their compliance with national
quality standards and providing continued assurance to donors and landowners of their
commitment to forever steward their land and easements. Almost 20 million acres of farms,
forests, and natural areas vital to healthy communities are now permanently conserved by an
accredited land trust.

The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending
applications. Comments must relate to how the Teton Regional Land Trust complies with
national quality standards. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a
land trust. For the full list of standards see http://www.landtrustaccreditation.org/help-and-
resources/indicator-practices.

To learn more about the accreditation program and to submit a comment, visit
www.landtrustaccreditation.org, or email your comment to info@landtrustaccreditation.org.
Comments may also be faxed or mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn:
Public Comments: (fax) 518-587-3183; (mail) 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY
12866.

Comments on the Teton Regional Land Trust’s application will be most useful by April 15, 2020.

Year End Reflections

By Joselin Matkins, Executive Director, Teton Regional Land Trust

Growing up in eastern Idaho, Targhee was always a winter destination. I have fond memories of staying at the TeePee and learning how to ski deep powder.  When I was 19, I drove through the valley in late May and saw it in a whole new way. I remember looking out over the Teton River in awe. The lush green valley, backed by the snowcapped Tetons, was captivating and left a lasting impact on me. My dream of moving to Teton Valley took over twenty years, but for the last seven years, I have been lucky to call this home.

As Executive Director of the Teton Regional Land Trust, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes this place so unique and how to protect its irreplaceable natural resources. Nationally, it is estimated that we lose three acres of agricultural land every minute. Globally, we have seen 50% of the species go extinct. As one of the fastest-growing regions of the country, Teton Valley is not immune to agricultural land and habitat loss.

Although this can feel overwhelming, land trusts and their community partners around the country have protected more land than all the National Parks combined through voluntary land conservation. This means that many local communities see the value in keeping their lands intact to benefit both wildlife and their quality of life. This is evident in eastern Idaho, and I take pride in knowing that our residents are working together to create vibrant and growing communities while sustaining the natural resources that draw so many of us here.

Groups like the Friends of the Teton River who are working to sustain and improve our rivers and streams, and farmers and ranchers who are working on innovative ways to sustain the productivity of their working lands while keeping habitat intact, demonstrate the many ways we can work together to sustain what makes Teton Valley, Teton Valley.

For the Land Trust, our work has focused for the last 29 years on agreements with landowners who wish to reduce or eliminate subdivision of their land. By focusing on our mission of voluntary land conservation, we have been able to help conserve some of the valley’s treasured assets forever. Working with over 100 landowners, we have conserved over 11,000 acres of land in Teton Valley. Included in this are 20 miles of protected land along the Teton River and its tributaries.

During this holiday season, we want to express our appreciation for the landowners, supporters, and community partners that have helped us carry out our mission. Working together, we can protect this great place by conserving working farms and ranches, fish and wildlife habitat, and scenic open spaces in eastern Idaho for this and future generations.

Happy Holidays.

Sandhill Cranes of the Greater Yellowstone

By Joselin Matkins, Executive Director, Teton Regional Land Trust

The Greater Yellowstone region is home to the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states of the US. This means that residents and visitors alike have the opportunity to view wildlife regularly and experience all that nature has to offer, including observing iconic species such as the Greater Sandhill Crane, having walked our earth for over 10 million years.

Sandhill Cranes are one of 12 species of crane around the world. Because of their captivating song, expressive dances, and complex, human-like social behavior, cranes have captured our attention and reverence for centuries. Across the world, they are honored as signs of hope, resilience, and renewal and their annual migrations are celebrated with crane festivals, that include song, dance, and community gatherings.

Here in the Greater Yellowstone region, we are lucky to see cranes from March to October. Each year, thousands of Sandhills return to nest and raise their young. They are found across the region in a wide range of habitats that are closely connected to water and vegetative cover from predators. Sandhills pair for life and typically raise one to two young per year. Their young grow up to an inch a day!

As fall approaches, families of Sandhills (typically the parents and one or two young), seek out staging habitat so they can fuel up for the long migration to their wintering grounds in New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. What these Sandhills are looking for is a very unique alignment of resources that is found in abundance in Teton Valley, Idaho. They are seeking out shallow wetland areas, known as night roosts, where they gather in large numbers for safety and security. They spend the night in these areas, standing in shallow water so that they can hear approaching predators. Each morning at dawn, they go in search of the other aspect of this critical alignment, food. Surveys by the Teton Regional Land Trust since 2003 show that what Sandhills are looking for is cut grain leftover from harvest within no more than two miles of their night roosts. This proximity enables them to efficiently build up the resources they need to make the migration south. Presumably, they also prefer the cut grain for the same reason they prefer to spend the night in standing water – the ability to see predators approaching.

Because of the Teton River, its associated wetlands, and the agricultural productivity on the west side of the Teton River, the Teton Valley hosts the largest staging population of Sandhill Cranes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with up to 2,000 cranes making their way from around the region to the Teton Valley to complete this critically important aspect of their lifecycle.

The Teton Regional Land Trust has long recognized the importance of protecting critical habitat and working lands in the area. For nearly 30 years, our focus has been to ensure that habitat and agricultural lands upon which our community and the wildlife rely upon are sustained. As development pressures continue to increase, the need to act to ensure the Greater Yellowstone remains the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 has come to a critical juncture, the time to join in this effort is now.

This is why the land trust began hosting the Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival in 2018. The purpose of the festival is to create a community-wide celebration of the Greater Yellowstone region’s exceptional wildlife and irreplaceable natural resources and the fall migration of the Sandhill Crane. Much like crane festivals around the world, we come together as a community to honor and respect the wildlife with which we share this special place. The Festival’s proceeds will support the efforts of the Greater Yellowstone Sandhill Crane Initiative which works to protect crucial habitat and resources for the largest staging population of Sandhill Cranes in the Greater Yellowstone and the myriad of iconic species that call the region home. By protecting the habitat that Sandhill Cranes rely on, we are also protecting habitat for the wide variety of species that call the region home.

I hope you will visit our website to learn about the week of activities planned and that you will join us for the community celebration in Driggs on Saturday, September 21.  This family-friendly festival is filled with activities throughout the week including photography and art workshops, crane viewing tours, a keynote lecture from a renowned photographer, a film screening following a crane on its epic migration journey, and local art auction at the Teton Science School. The Festival will also host and an art exhibit and panel discussion at the Driggs City Center, exploring the intersection of art and conservation. The festival culminates with a day of natural resource education, a Teton Raptor Center exhibit, arts and crafts, live music, food and drinks, and stage performances including choreographed “crane” dances and poetry readings. I hope you will join us for this community event to celebrate and catalyze conservation of Sandhill Cranes and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We look forward to celebrating with you!

 

A Treasure Worth Preserving – South Fork Property Conserved

Thanks to the vision of landowner, Al Davis, another stretch of the South Fork is forever protected. The Teton Regional Land Trust (TRLT) recently completed this conservation easement that builds on decades of conservation along the South Fork. The recently conserved property has been in Davis’ family since the turn of the last century and is located across the Heise bridge near Ririe, Idaho.

As part of the South Fork Conservation Partnership, Teton Regional Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, and the Bureau of Land Management, have worked together for almost 30 years to leverage private funding, easement donations, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect much of the South Fork. The result of this effort is the permanent conservation of over 20,000 acres, keeping this remarkable river relatively undeveloped. This includes projects from the Palisades Dam to the confluence with the Henry’s Fork that help ensure that the largest intact cottonwood gallery in the lower 48 states. The South Fork hosts some of the most biodiverse habitat in Idaho, providing habitat for wildlife, shade and spawning grounds for trout, and a high-quality recreational experience for people from all over the world.

The Davis family has a long history along the South Fork. In the early 1900s. Al Davis’ grandparents built their home and established the first ferry across the South Fork, just downstream of Heise Hot Springs. For Al Davis, his family’s history on this special property inspired him to conserve it through the Land Trust. He explained that “The land has always been special to me. My mother was born on the property in 1923 and once I came along 23 years later, we always spent some time at my grandparents’ house on the land every summer.  It was a real treat for a kid living in the suburbs of Utah and California to spend time in a rural and mostly wild environment.  It was a wonderful place to be a kid and the charm of what I thought at the time was a wild place left an indelible mark and shaped some of what I would eventually become.”

For Davis, seeing the United States population more than doubled since his childhood, and seeing so many of his childhood places along the river and in the mountains being developed, inspired him to conserve this land in its natural state. Davis purchased the land in 1976 when the family decided to sell the property.  He explains, “It had sentimental value and I certainly didn’t think of the purchase as a monetary investment.  Now that all of my mother’s family are gone, the sentimental value has only grown.  There was a time when I had an ill-formed idea that maybe I’d build a modest house there someday but as the years passed and so many wild places have been destroyed, I realized that I wanted to just leave the property as it was.  Hence when I was contacted by the Teton Regional Land Trust, the decision to permanently conserve the land was an easy one.  Knowing that the land is now preserved in perpetuity is a great feeling.”

This project conserves approximately one-third mile of South Fork River frontage lined with cottonwood trees to and a spring creek that flows down the steep hillside. In addition to the conservation along the banks of the South Fork, the property extends to the top of the mountain, sustaining important upland habitat. The property adjoins public land on all sides and is visible from the river, ensuring unobstructed scenic views of the mountainside and along the riverbanks. This area along the South Fork is very popular for recreation which includes boating, fishing, hiking, 4-wheeling, climbing, and hot-springing. Public access will be permitted along a strip of the property’s South Fork River frontage, south of the Heise Road.

Beyond the scenic values, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) specifically recognizes the property’s value for wintering mule deer and provided financial support for the project through their Mule Deer Initiative program. The south facing slopes dominated by juniper and sagebrush provide winter range for mule deer and white-tailed deer that summer throughout the Big Hole and Palisades Mountains.  Winter aerial survey counts for mule deer have been very high in this area.  A majority of the Heise Face is currently protected through federal ownership, but this property is one of the few private parcels within this winter range.  IDFG states that “Protection of this property through a conservation easement will help ensure mule deer in this area will have secure winter range in the future.”

Other project funding was provided by a bequest from a Teton Regional Land Trust donor whose vision was to conserve the South Fork River Canyon corridor. TRLT has worked with partner organizations and willing landowners for the last twenty-nine years to protect over 34,000 acres through conservation easements and other voluntary conservation options.

 

 

 

Celebrating 10 Years of “Wrunning for Wray” and Honoring His Legacy through Conservation

Join the Teton Regional Land Trust on Saturday, June 22 at Grand Targhee Resort for the 10th Annual Wrun for Wray Targhee Hill Climb held in honor of Wray Landon IV. The 2.9-mile race starts at 10am at the base of the Dreamcatcher chairlift and climbs 1,840’ to the top of Fred’s Mountain. Come join us to race or cheer on the participants. After the race, there will be a raffle and celebration. Proceeds from the race and the raffle will benefit the Teton Regional Land Trust’s Wray Landon Legacy Fund. You can register online at: https://tetonlandtrust.org/event/wrun-for-wray/ or at Grand Targhee on the day of the race. This year’s overall male and female race winners will win a Grand Targhee season ski pass.

Wray Landon IV who was born on September 6, 1979, in Westerly, Rhode Island and passed away in an avalanche on February 21, 2010, on the South Teton Peak. Wray began his professional career with Teton Regional Land Trust as an intern in 2007. Due in large part to his hard work ethic, his goal-oriented zeal, and his ability to communicate with a variety of landowners, Wray was soon offered a full-time position as the Resource Specialist for the 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 contracts negotiated with landowners to protect private lands.  His good sense and courtesy endeared him to the landowners with whom the Land Trust worked, helping build those 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.

Wray’s wit, like the man himself, was characteristically understated and on target – often conveying the humor in a situation with a couple of wry words and a twinkle in his eye. Wray had an extremely positive attitude and was an incredible listener. For the level of his athleticism and strength, he was extremely modest. Whenever people would ask how he did in a race he would often respond pretty well, when he really had won and possibly even smoked the competition.

Wray was a man of the high mountains; and he was also passionate about wetland conservation, plant ecology, and wildlife. At the time of his passing, Wray was part of the grant-writing team working on a project that resulted in the protection of thousands of acres of important habitat along the Henry’s Fork River. The grant was successful in raising $1,000,000. Wray was also the lead on the Woods Creek Fen Kiosk project. It was his idea to construct the observation platform and install a viewing scope so that everyone could see this landscape from a higher perspective. The observation platform is marked with a plaque dedicating it in memory of Landon.

To carry forward his legacy and love for the land, the Wray Landon Legacy Fund was established. Altogether, the fund has raised just over $113,000. Of the money raised, approximately half is held in the Wray Landon Legacy Fund at the Land Trust. These funds will be used to advance conservation projects in the Teton Valley in coming years.

Over the past 10 years, the fund has also been used to catalyze a handful of projects and support the Land Trust’s stewardship program. In the year after his passing, funds were used to complete the Woods Creek Fen Outdoor Classroom and to help match the $1,000,000 North American Wetland Conservation grant that he was helping to write. The fund has been used to enhance the Land Trust’s summer internship program and to hire a permanent land manager position. The funds have helped us advance our monitoring efforts of iconic species of the Greater Yellowstone including Yellowstone cutthroat trout, Sandhill Cranes, and songbirds. Other funds have been applied to conservation easement acquisitions and habitat restoration across the Teton Valley.

If you are interested in donating to the Wray Land Legacy Fund or learning more about the fund, call 208-354-8939, email christine@tetonlandtrust.org or send your donation to PO Box 247, Driggs, ID 83422. Gifts can also be made through the Community Foundation of Teton Valley’s Tin Cup Challenge which is now open through Friday, July 26th at 5pm. Please mark your gift for the Wray Landon Legacy Fund.