Two conservation easements along the Lemhi River near Leadore will protect nearly 2,400 acres of salmon and wildlife habitat, tributary streams and working ranchland, according to The Nature Conservancy.
The conservation easements protect two ranches, and include some of the most important salmon habitat in the Lemhi valley. Both ranches will continue to be operated as working ranchland, with conservation plans in place to restore tributary streams, protect streamside vegetation and increase water flow to the Lemhi River.
Conservation easements are legal agreements restricting development while ensuring that private ownership and traditional uses of the land including ranching continue.
The conservation agreements include the restoration of three Lemhi River tributaries used as spawning and rearing habitat by salmon and steelhead trout -- Canyon, Lee and Little Springs creeks. The project will also increase water flows in the Lemhi, creating better conditions for migrating fish.
The Nature Conservancy purchased one of these properties, the 1350-acre Cottom Ranch, in 2007. The organization will now transfer this ranch with a conservation easement in place to rancher Merrill Beyeler, in exchange for an additional easement on 1025 acres of another property owned by the Beyeler family.
Beyeler has owned his current ranch since 1959, and is well known for his responsible management of grazing operations.
“This is an exciting thing for us, both from a conservation side and the ranching side,” said Beyeler. “We can accomplish things for both ranching and conservation by combining these two properties that we couldn’t if both were separate.”
“This project keeps ranchers on the land, and fish in the water,” says Mark Davidson, the Conservancy’s Central Idaho conservation manager. “Working ranches are a vital component to the local area and harbor habitat important for the continued survival of salmon in the Lemhi River. Projects like this recognize that connection and strive to find a balance between continued ranching uses and habitat protection.”
Additionally, the two properties are used by wildlife including elk, mule deer, sage grouse and a variety of migratory birds.
The Nature Conservancy partnered with the Bonneville Power Administration and the Snake River Basin Adjudication Habitat Trust Fund to complete the acquisition of the conservation easements.
“One of the real motivating factors for us with these conservation easements was maintaining the identity of this rural community,” says Beyeler. “This place offers a lot, not only to those of us who live here but to many others. People come here to fish and hunt and just enjoy the open space. We lose something if we lose this rural identity.”
The Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and the Idaho Office of Species Conservation provided or approved funding for the project.