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