Three Regional Conservation Projects Protect Working Lands, Wildlife Habitat, and Scenic Views

(November 1, 2021) Teton Regional Land Trust (TRLT) completed three important conservation projects this summer on properties throughout our region in Teton Valley, on Pine Creek Bench in Swan Valley, and adjacent to the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area. These conservation easements add over 2,500 acres to the Land Trust’s conserved properties. “Congratulations to Renee Hiebert, Conservation Specialist and Josh Holmes, Land Protection Specialist, who led these projects that reflect the landowners’ goals for their properties while protecting the conservation values. All three projects build upon past conservation work by TRLT and our partners and help ensure the long-term ecological function of core conservation areas in east Idaho. It’s no secret that east Idaho is facing unprecedented pressures on resources. Strategic conservation of working lands that provide key wildlife habitat and habitat connectivity contributes to common goals of many people who call this area home—open space and robust wildlife populations” said Tamara Sperber, Conservation Director.

Earlier this summer, Three Forks, LLC conserved 130 acres of pivot-irrigated farmland adjacent to their existing conservation easement properties that are located in the Three Forks area of the Teton River approximately five miles west of Driggs. The property provides important foraging habitat for Sandhill Cranes and waterbirds in both spring and fall and is part of a migratory corridor for big game. The family donated the value of the conservation easement, which provides the needed private match for TRLT’s current North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant.  This is TRLT’s sixth $1 million NAWCA grant that benefits Teton Valley and brings funds to local landowners interested in conserving their land to benefit wetland-dependent bird species. Each grant has been leveraged by several million private dollars in the form of both easement donations and monetary donations from private foundations and individuals, benefitting local communities, both human and wild. The Cross Charitable Foundation helped with the needed match to complete this conservation project. The recent easement meets two distinct conservation purposes: the preservation of the relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, or plants and the protection of open space including farmland pursuant to a clearly delineated governmental policy.

In early September, a conservation easement granted to TRLT by the Bradford family preserved one of the last pieces of unprotected farmland on Pine Creek Bench in Swan Valley. Overlooking the South Fork of the Snake River, this 140-acre easement is surrounded by other protected farms and land owned by Bureau of Land Management, which collectively protect the incredible scenery along the famed trout stream.  “This was an exceptionally rewarding project to be a part of. Anytime you see an inholding conserved, you know the resources in the area have a greater chance of remaining intact for the future benefit of local wildlife.  Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse and big game are a few of the species that rely on the open space and habitat of the Pine Creek Bench. The Bradfords have made a significant and lasting impact on conservation in the area.” says Josh Holmes, TRLT Land Protection Specialist, who worked on the conservation easement.  This project builds on the 30-year effort by the Snake River Conservation Partnership to protect lands along the South Fork, adding to the more than 10,000 acres that have been preserved from development along the river. Funding was also provided by Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the JKL Family Foundation, the Cross Charitable Foundation, and a private bequest.

Most recently, one of TRLT’s largest conservation easements was granted by a family on their ranch adjacent to the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), in Bonneville County east of Idaho Falls, preserving critical transition habitat that is vital for big game herds that winter on the WMA. Elk, mule deer, moose, Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse, and a multitude of other wildlife species will benefit from the protection of this large property. This conservation project met the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) qualification for Grasslands of Special Significance because of the sagebrush habitat, which allowed the NRCS to contribute a significant amount of funding for the easement under the Agricultural Land Easement program.  An NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Agricultural Land 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. “Conserving over 2,000 acres of rangeland next to the WMA couldn’t have happened without the landowners’ vision and help from our dedicated partners. The NRCS has been a wonderful partner all along the way, helping us overcome numerous hurdles to get the ranch protected. You don’t see too many ranches of this size in this area. I can’t thank the family enough for working with us to implement their conservation vision to protect such a special place.” Josh Holmes, Land Protection Specialist for TRLT. In addition to the support received by NRCS, other partners that supported the project include the Cross Charitable Foundation, the JKL Family Foundation, the local Safari Club chapter, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and private donors.

For over 30 years, the Land Trust has worked with partner organizations and willing landowners to protect more than 39,000 acres in east Idaho through conservation easements and other voluntary conservation options.

Cover Photo:  Pine Creek Bench in Swan Valley

Three Forks in Teton Valley

Tex Creek in Bonneville County

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

(March 23, 2021) 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

(December 22, 2020) 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

(December 17, 2020) 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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

Conservation Easement on Lower Henry’s Fork  

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 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, song bird, 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 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 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.

TRLT has worked with partner organizations and willing landowners for the last twenty-eight years to protect over 34,000 acres through conservation easements and other voluntary conservation options.

Conservation Comes Full Circle

Teton Regional Land Trust and Teton Full Circle Farm partnered to complete a conservation easement on Wednesday, December 19, 2018.  The 21-acre farm northeast of Victor, Idaho is owned by Erika Eschholz and Ken Michael. The property is located in between the Targhee National Forest and Victor city limits. The small farm is highly valuable for production with water rights and a microclimate that create conditions which are some of the most favorable for agriculture in the valley. The Natural Resource Conservation Service considers 100% of the property’s soils as prime farmland.  Conservation of the Teton Full Circle Farm protects farmland and open space, along with habitat for big game, songbirds, and raptors from the neighboring forest. Wildlife is spotted frequently on the property. Organic farms are also important to conserving rare pollinator species since pesticides can threaten their survival.

Eschholz and Michael chose to put a conservation easement on their property because it was important to them that this land will always remain as farmland. “The permanent protection of farmland supports local food, young farmers, healthy ecosystems, healthy lifestyles, and community. The funds from the conservation easement payment will go directly to pay off our farm loan which will allow us to put future farm-generated income into building a new farm sooner verses later. To top it off, because this land cannot be developed, it will be much more affordable for the next farmer,” they explained. “The quilt that is Teton Valley is full of beautiful, diverse squares, all held together by the thread of nature.  The more land we protect for farms and wildlife habitat, the stronger this thread becomes, making a quilt to last for countless generations to come.”

Without being in a generational farming family, or having deep pockets, the cost of land is the biggest barrier of entry for new farmers.  Conservation easements provide a financial-based solution and an important tool for making land affordable.  These easements stay with the land forever. 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.

The majority of the Land Trust’s conservation projects focus on landscape scale conservation of farms, ranches, and wildlife habitat. But supporting community projects, like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, provides community benefit and community conservation outcomes. CSA programs are an agreement between farmers and customers.  By purchasing vegetables preseason, or making a workshare commitment, members receive vegetables and other farm products on a weekly basis.  CSA members save time and energy while eating seasonal selections of our area’s finest and freshest certified organic food, all below farmers’ market prices.

“Completing this project was a unique opportunity to partner with the landowners and the community supported farm to protect vital farmland close to Victor for future generations,” said Joselin Matkins, Executive Director of the Land Trust. “We were so happy to see members of the community supporting this CSA. We received donations from over 40 individuals that gave to the Farmland Forever Fund.”

“Thank you to the Teton Community for your invaluable support in preserving the prime farmlands we all rely on.  It is an incredible feeling to live in a place that values local food, farms, and a healthy connection to the natural world,” expressed Eschholz and Michael.

This conservation project was accomplished through a partnership between the Land Trust, the landowners, and other partners. Funding for this project came from the local community including the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture members, a generous donation by the Donald C. Brace Foundation, and Land Trust supporters.  We also received a grant from New Belgium Brewing Company and other funding was provided by the United States Department of Energy in connection with the settlement of an enforcement action taken by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality for alleged violations of the requirements of the Hazardous Waste Management Act.

TRLT has worked with partner organizations and willing landowners for the last twenty-eight years to protect over 34,000 acres through conservation easements and other voluntary conservation options.

 

 

Vital Ground Protected Along the Fall River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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