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.

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

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

Trumpeter Swans in Teton Valley

Trumpeter Swans are one of our region’s most iconic birds and embody the extraordinary landscape we call home. Trumpeter Swans are the largest waterfowl species native to North America, and in addition to being visually magnificent, they exhibit highly cognizant behavior, form strong family bonds, and can live up to 25 years in the wild. In the Greater Yellowstone region, Trumpeters can be seen and heard near ponds, rivers, and streams year-round.

The Teton Basin Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project is a partnership between Teton Regional Land Trust, IDFG, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Intermountain Aquatics, and other local partners. The goal of the partnership is to restore Teton Basin’s population of nesting Trumpeter Swans and through that, conserve the ecology and natural heritage of nesting Trumpeter Swans in Yellowstone National Park and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. To accomplish this goal, project partners are committed to a long-term effort involving releases of captive-bred Trumpeter Swans in Teton Basin in an effort to restore the population, in addition to continuing to conserve critical swan habitat. Since 2013, project partners have released 28 swans. One of the Trumpeters released in 2016, affectionately named R13, was spotted this summer in the Bechler area of Yellowstone National Park paired with a wild swan. Although the hope is that someday there will be nesting Trumpeters in Teton Valley, it is exciting to see them making a home anywhere in the Greater Yellowstone region.

We recently released six cygnets onto a protected wetland in Teton Valley and have been monitoring them for a month and have observed them bonding with a wild swan.  We would like to remind hunters to know your target. There is no hunting season for Trumpeter Swans in Idaho Trumpeter Swans are considerably larger than geese and adult swans have solid white wings and bodies. Young swans, called cygnets, are medium gray with a pale belly and wing lining.

Most of our released Trumpeter Swans are marked with large green neck collars with white alphanumeric codes, but this year’s released cygnets have a green leg band instead. If you observe green-collared or banded swans in our region, please notify the Teton Regional Land Trust.  For more information or to support the project, please visit www.tetonlandtrust.org or contact Nicole Cyr via email at nicole@tetonlandtrust.org.

Photo by Anna Kirkpatrick

Caribou-Targhee National Forest Gains Priority Inholding The protection of the Maytag-Teton Timbers property will ensure additional access to public lands and enhance wildlife habitat protection

DRIGGS, ID (September 29, 2020) —The U.S. Forest Service and The Conservation Fund
announce that approximately 960-acres of land located in a remote forested area in Teton
County, Idaho is now protected in perpetuity, thanks to a partnership that also includes the
Teton Regional Land Trust, supportive landowners at the Beartooth Group, Teton County
Commissioners, the Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD), and Idaho’s
Congressional delegation.

The Maytag-Teton Timbers property has been a top Forest Service priority for protection in the
Caribou-Targhee National Forest for several years. As a private inholding surrounded by public
lands, the parcel created navigational issues for outdoor enthusiasts interested in accessing the
national forest. The Forest Service’s acquisition of this property effectively helps consolidate the
area within the northern end of the Big Hole Mountain range, eliminates subdivision threats,
reduces wildland-urban interface fire concerns from the local community, and protects critical
wildlife habitat and watersheds. This conservation effort was made possible through funding
from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was permanently and fully
funded by a new law enacted last month.

“The Maytag-Teton Timbers property is a prime example of LWCF working in a collaborative
way,” said Congressman Mike Simpson. “Engaging with the local community and ensuring
their needs were met, was critical to the success of this project. I applaud the U.S. Forest
Service and all the partners involved, for working diligently to accomplish this great project.
When the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law last month, I said this bill is for
future generations. The Maytag-Teton Timbers property will achieve this goal by opening up
public access for Idahoans for centuries to come.”

With elevated views of the Tetons, a multitude of aspen groves and open meadows, the
potential for residential subdivision on this property was incredibly high. The acquisition
conserves open space, protects habitat from future development, mitigates wildfire risk, and
protects clean water for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and people. This parcel is rich with water
resources and encompasses stretches of Porcupine, Irene, Brown Bear, and Hillman Creeks, as
well as the upper reaches of Pack Saddle and Horseshoe Creeks.

“Protection of these critical riparian areas and headwaters stretches will ensure high-quality
water flows from the upper reaches of Pack Saddle and Horseshoe Creeks to their confluence
with the Teton River, a world-class, blue-ribbon trout fishery,” said Mel Bolling, Caribou-
Targhee National Forest Supervisor.

The conservation of this private inholding ensures the American people, including hikers,
hunters, equestrian riders, anglers, mountain bikers, snow sports enthusiasts, and others will be
able to use an additional 960-acres of public lands and eliminates future concerns about
possible trespass issues on the property.

When the property went up for sale in 2017, The Conservation Fund began working with
Beartooth Group and then stepped in to purchase the Maytag property in April 2020, allowing
the Forest Service the necessary time needed to acquire funding. The Teton Regional Land
Trust assisted The Conservation Fund in the effort to acquire, hold and ultimately transfer the
land to the Forest Service.

“Partnerships and collaboration go a long way in making these important conservation projects
viable,” said Mark Elsbree, Western Director and Senior Vice President at The
Conservation Fund. “Securing the Maytag property for a community that highly values its
public lands for wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities will have a lasting positive impact.”
“The Teton Regional Land Trust is happy to be a partner in this acquisition to incorporate the
private inholding in the Big Hole Mountains into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. This is a
great outcome for the public and wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” stated Joselin
Matkins, the Land Trust’s Executive Director.

“It is our mission to restore, enhance and protect critical properties throughout the West – and
this transaction will be one of our proudest moments,” said Robert Keith, Founder and
Managing Principal of Beartooth Group. “We started working with the Teton Regional Land
Trust and The Conservation Fund before our acquisition in 2014 on how to make such an
outcome occur. After the demolition of a large and hazardous structure, clean-up associated with
abandoned coal mining operations and a sustainable timber operation to improve forest health,
The Conservation Fund made this goal a reality. It was truly a pleasure to be involved with this
Forest Service great group of partners in this wonderful transaction.”

“From my initial conversation with The Conservation Fund, and as a Board member with VARD,
I was beyond thrilled and honored to present to them the opportunity to preserve the Maytag
property,” said VARD Board Member Linda Unland. “Through the hard work of The
Conservation Fund, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, and many others, the project is
coming to fruition. This is an exceptional shared legacy for the Teton Valley and generations to
come.”

About Caribou-Targhee National Forest
The Caribou-Targhee National Forest occupies over 3 million acres and stretches across
southeastern Idaho, from the Montana, Utah, and Wyoming borders. To the east, the Forest
borders Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the Bridger-Teton National
Forest. Most of the Caribou-Targhee is part of the 20-million acres Greater Yellowstone
Ecosystem and is also home to the Curlew National Grassland. The spectacular scenery of the
Forest is easily reached from highways, byways, and back doors. The bond between forest and
community spans generations through family activities such as camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, and riding off-highway vehicles. During the winter, the forest offers vast expanses of untracked powder.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that
make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its
essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have
worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including over
135,000 acres in Idaho. https://www.conservationfund.org

About Teton Regional Land Trust
Teton Regional Land Trust is a 501(c) (3) whose mission is to conserve working farms and
ranches, fish and wildlife habitat, and scenic open spaces in eastern Idaho for this and future
generations. For more information, please call 208-354-8939 or visit our website at:
www.tetonlandtrust.org

About Valley Advocates for Responsible Development
Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD) is a Driggs, Idaho-based nonprofit with a
mission of promoting open spaces, wild places, and vibrant towns in Teton Valley. We promote
a synthesis of responsible development and sustainable use of rural and natural resources in
Teton Valley, a key sub-region of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that lies under 5 local
government jurisdictions and two US States. Since our founding in 2001, we have influenced
countless community planning decisions and have leveraged over $31 million toward
conservation and community development efforts.

Expanded Protection of the Spring Creek Wetland in Teton Valley

On Thursday, September 17, 2020, the Teton Regional Land Trust increased the protection of a large wetland complex at the head of Spring Creek, near Tetonia, and secured important habitat for Sandhill Cranes. Just upstream of the confluence of Spring Creek and North Leigh Creek, the Spring Creek Ranch is a mix of wetlands and spring creeks surrounded by sagebrush-covered hills. In 2015, the Land Trust purchased 180 acres adjacent to their Petzoldt Preserve, a small parcel protected for its wetland habitat in 2004. The property was purchased because of the valuable wetlands that provide habitat for five Sandhill Crane nests and important fall roosting habitat for staging Sandhill Cranes. The uplands also provide critical winter range for elk and moose.

The new conservation easement will add an additional 110 acres of conserved land to the existing 200 acres already protected and enhance habitat protection for native plants, fish, and wildlife including “Species of Greatest Conservation Need”  as outlined in the Idaho State Wildlife Action Plan including Ferruginous Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Northern Leopard Frog, Common Nighthawk, Trumpeter Swan, Short-eared Owl, and Columbian Sharp-tailed grouse.  “We are very excited to protect more important habitat in Teton Valley. This land is used year-round by wildlife including wintering elk and nesting and staging Sandhill Cranes in the summer and fall,” says Joselin Matkins, Teton Regional Land Trust Executive Director.

This marks the 81st conservation easement completed in Teton Valley in partnership with willing landowners and the Land Trust. It builds on the protection of over 11,000 acres of valley habitat and working lands that benefits both people and wildlife. For 30 years, and across eastern Idaho, the Land Trust has worked with partner organizations and willing landowners for the last thirty years to protect over 34,000 acres through conservation easements and other voluntary conservation options. A conservation easement is a legal agreement that allows for farming and ranching of properties as well as limited residential construction, but permanently restricts the amount and type of future development.

 

Sandhill Cranes in Teton Valley

Teton Regional Land Trust leads the Greater Yellowstone Sandhill Crane Initiative, which is a project focused on the protection of habitat for Sandhill Cranes. Sandhill Cranes are one of the most iconic species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and are especially effective drivers for conservation initiatives due to their status as an umbrella species. Each fall, Sandhills from around the Greater Yellowstone, including Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, congregate in large numbers in Teton Valley to build up the energy reserves needed for their long migration to their wintering grounds because of the valley’s unique alignment of wetland roosting habitat and farmland. As a result, the Valley hosts the largest pre-migration staging population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and one of the most important pre-migration staging areas for the Rocky Mountain Population of Sandhill Cranes.

The Sandhill Cranes of Teton Valley and the Greater Yellowstone Region are part of the Rocky Mountain Population which is about 20,000 strong. The majority of the population winters in New Mexico at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, but can also be found in other areas of the southwest and Mexico. During the spring, these Sandhills migrate north with many nesting in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This population is unique and distinct from the large population (over 500,000) of Lesser Sandhill Cranes that migrate along the Platte River in the central US.

In 2018, we started the Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival in honor of the amazing Sandhill Cranes. Although the festival will be virtual this year, we will still celebrate the Sandhill Crane migration and the exceptional natural and agricultural resources of the Teton Valley and raise awareness about efforts to conserve critical habitat for cranes and other iconic species of the Greater Yellowstone.

The Teton Regional Land Trust has been working strategically to protect the wetland roosting habitat and partnering with landowners to provide grain in the Teton Valley. To date, we have protected over 80% of the documented crane roosts. Since 2016, we have also implemented our Grain for Cranes program that ensures food resources for staging cranes in close proximity to the protected wetlands by creating grain food plots to supplement the foraging resources of grain left over after harvest along the west bench of the Teton River. This alignment of resources is unique and irreplaceable. With development pressure increasing across the region, the farm fields that Sandhills rely on for food is becoming fragmented and disappearing, replaced by homes and subdivisions

While the Land Trust is proud of the permanent protection of staging habitat in Teton Valley, there is more work to be done if we want staging Sandhills to continue to return to the Teton Valley. Not only that, staging habitat is a limited resource across the region, so if we lose staging habitat in Teton Valley, we are risking losing nesting cranes across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This is because Sandhills nest near staging areas to ensure the ability to complete their annual cycle. If there are not sufficient staging resources in Teton Valley, we will likely see fewer and fewer Sandhills nesting in the region over time.

The Land Trust hopes that by raising awareness of this unique and important natural resource in the Teton Valley, our community will be inspired to help protect the habitat Sandhills need to persist. This is the inspiration behind the Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival. As an umbrella species, protecting habitat for Sandhills protects habitat for a whole myriad of other wildlife that calls the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem their home. And it’s not just wildlife that benefits from the protection of staging habitat, by conserving farmland, we are also contributing to the sustainability of our region’s agricultural economy and ensuring open lands for the production of food.

You can learn more about staging Sandhill Cranes and the conservation efforts of the Teton Regional Land Trust by participating in the upcoming Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival. The festival highlights the connection between the natural world and the human spirit and celebrates nature through art. While this year’s festival has gone virtual, there are still many ways to participate.

Our virtual festival will be from September 14 to 19 and will include daily programming and themes related to Sandhill Cranes. This will be delivered through email, our Facebook page, and our website. One of the elements we are still able to include this year is the Crane Art Sculptures which have been beautifully decorated by artists and community members. You can view them in the Driggs City Building foyer in the Teton Arts Gallery and you can vote for your favorite to win the “People’s Choice” award on our website. If you want to own one of these works of art, you can bid on them in our Crane Fest auction along with additional crane themed artwork.

Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival Schedule:

Monday 9/14 – Welcome and Overview of the Festival

Tuesday 9/15 – Cranes in the Classroom presentation and program description

Wednesday 9/16 – Cranes in Culture, the historic and global context, poetry feature, and dance feature

Thursday 9/17 – Staging Cranes in Teton Valley Virtual Event

Friday 9/18 – Cranes and Art, last day to vote for the Crane Art Sculpture “People’s Choice” award

Saturday 9/19 – “People’s Choice” awards will be announced, last chance to bid on the auction until 6pm

If you are not signed up for our E-news and would like to receive the daily Crane Fest programs through email, sign up for E-news on our website (look for it on the top left of the front page).

 

2020 Tin Cup Challenge Op-Ed

One of my favorite things about living in Teton Valley is the Community Foundation of Teton Valley’s annual Tin Cup Challenge. The generosity of our community, the endless hours of volunteering, and the opportunity to learn about the incredible accomplishments of our valley’s nonprofits are energizing and inspiring. In fact, just the act of giving is good for our health. A Cleveland Clinic study found that the health benefits associated with giving include lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, a longer life, and greater happiness. Not only that, it is fun to help out!

It is remarkable that one in four households in Teton Valley give during Tin Cup and I am happy to be one of them. I take great pride in having been a Tin Cup Challenger for the past few years and appreciate the opportunity to positively impact all our community nonprofits. I also appreciate that I can give directly to individual organizations and support their unique missions. We are truly being tested through this unprecedented time and our community continues to show up for those that need a helping hand. I admire the swift and dedicated action many of our valley’s nonprofits have taken to continue to help our community members in need during the COVID crisis. Tin Cup is a true testament to the generosity of our community, and for those that are able to give during this challenging time, your gift is more important than ever.

I also believe that this time has shown us how much nature gives. From nourishing us with food and providing us with clean air and water, to keeping us physically and mentally healthy by providing opportunities to exercise and recharge when going out for a day in the woods or on the river, nature is critical to our well-being. By supporting organizations like the Land Trust, you can give back to nature, ensuring nature’s health, and thus our own health is safeguarded.

This summer, the Teton Regional Land Trust is celebrating its 30 Year Anniversary. I am so grateful for the dedicated community members that are compelled to give back to nature and founded the Land Trust to serve our community three decades ago! The impact of their vision is evident in the protection of over 11,000 acres of habitat, working farms and ranches, and open space in Teton Valley. Floating the river with iconic unobstructed views is in large part due to the work of the Land Trust in partnership with landowners, other non-profits, foundations, federal agencies, and YOU. As we look to the next 30 years, I hope you will give back to the land that sustains us through a Tin Cup gift to the Teton Regional Land Trust so that in another 30 years, the community looks back to us and are thankful for our efforts to give nature a chance to thrive. The 11,000 acres of conserved land in Teton Valley are protected into perpetuity and any acres added to that in the next 30 years and beyond will be too. Leave your own legacy not only today but also for future generations by supporting what makes our valley and our community such a unique place to live.

Joselin Matkins, Executive Director  of Teton Regional Land Trust

 

Photo: Joselin with her Mom, Carol Matkins, on a Mother’s Day float on the Teton River.

Get to know Aimee Babneau, the local artist behind our 30th Anniversary artwork.

Tell us about growing up in Idaho:

I was born in Pocatello, Idaho to parents who initially traveled from New Hampshire to visit family. My dad immediately fell in love with the vast landscape and chose to relocate. I’m forever grateful my parents made time to introduce my brother and me to skiing. I’ve been playing at Pebble Creek and Grand Targhee for over 30 years and the people I meet at the mountain have become family.

Did you always envision being an artist or is that something that developed later in life?  Tell us about the type of art you create:

 I’ve been an artist as long as I can remember. I had a drawing chosen in kindergarten to represent my school on a tee-shirt. So, I guess that counts as my first published work. These days, I search for new ways to draw, paint, and create artistically recycled goods (mittens from recycled wool). I’ve been honored to work with Grand Targhee on two Bluegrass Festival posters and painted for a handful of businesses, events, and publications around the region. I have trucker hats and greeting cards at retail locations in Teton Valley, Idaho Falls, and Jackson Hole. I’m currently writing public art proposals for mural projects.

What role does nature play in your daily life? How does it make its way into your art?

Nature plays a critical role in my life. I’m appreciative of the experiences I’ve had and continue to share with this community. I’m a music lover, outdoor enthusiast, and a mother from this place. I’ve been told that my art “represents our generation in the Tetons.” It’s quite possibly the best compliment I’ve ever received. While my work isn’t photorealistic, it does explore a combination of urban and rural influences. I spent 10 years in Pocatello and have a deep love of that community also.

Tell us about your most memorable art creation:

My most memorable piece of art I painted in 2004 and is titled Strength in Difference. It’s still in my possession on a 4×5’ canvas. It’s about accepting diversity, being resourceful, and helping your community. Every year that passes, the painting means more to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to part with it.

What is it that you are passionate about when it comes to protecting our region’s environment and wildlife?

I’ve seen the region change and stay the same in many ways throughout my life. On clear mornings you can see the Tetons from my childhood home in miles of potato and sugar beet fields west of Blackfoot, Idaho. These mountains are my center. This place will forever be my home. I think it’s important to find something you’re passionate about to help support your community. The idea that my work cheerfully celebrates this place and time makes me feel complete.

What do you hope that your two boys appreciate or learn about the value of nature?

I hope my children realize they can live a full life by treating their environment and other people with respect. I want them to listen with compassion and act with kindness.

We are very excited about the watercolor you made for our 30th anniversary – anything specific you would like to say about this piece?

I’m honored to have my work represent Teton Regional Land Trust and the work they do to keep our surroundings pristine.

For more information and to see Aimee’s artwork, check these out:

Website: ABabneauArt.com

Facebook: Aimee Babneau Art & Design

Instagram: @aimeebabneauart

 

Our Conservation Heroes

VIEW PDF >