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. ■

200 Acres Protected on the Pine Creek Bench

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

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

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

800 Acres on the Fall River Preserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Fork Property Preserved for Future Generations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

900 Acres Protected on the Pine Creek Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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