Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Field Report: North Idaho Forest Legacy Tour

A report from the recent Forest Legacy tour in North Idaho by The Nature Conservancy's Steve Grourke. A special thanks to KBFI 1450 AM (Sandpoint and Bonner's Ferry) for covering the event. Photo: Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game habitat biologist Jeff Knetter is interviewed by KBFI radio host JoJo Baker.

On May 31, over twenty state and federal agency representatives and non-profit conservation partners from Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Washington and New Hampshire journeyed to the Lower Kootenai River Valley for the 2006 Forest Service Region 1 & 4 Forest Legacy Program field tour.

As coordinator for the first day of the two-day Legacy tour, the Conservancy brought together a variety of community leaders, resource experts and stakeholders to introduce and educate the trip participants to the valley. Forest Legacy is a US Forest Service sponsored, federally funded program that seeks to protect forestlands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses.

In Idaho, Legacy is administered by the Idaho Department of Lands and to date has helped protect over 54,000 acres in the state. Lands enrolled in the Legacy Program are subject to a perpetual conservation easement that restricts future subdivision and development of the property, while promoting traditional uses such as sustainable forestry, farming, ranching and in some cases public access.

In 2005, the Conservancy supported a Legacy project application by its partners, the Vital Ground Foundation. Vital Ground is working to protect a 1650-acre, third generation family forest that provides economic, cultural, social and natural resource benefits to Boundary County, the State and Intermountain West. The Clifty Mountain Foothills Project, consisting of a North Idaho mixed conifer forest, includes a heritage stand of old-growth cedar and an ornamental and seed-tree nursery, which annually contributes millions of dollars to the local, state and regional economy and is one of the largest employers in the County.

Located in the Conservancy’s Kootenai River “A” conservation area – a priority 1 CA in the Canadian Rockies Ecoregion, the project supports an abundance of federally threatened, endangered and candidate species and state species of concern. The project is immediately adjacent to the Boulder Creek grizzly bear management unit, lynx recovery zone, and a newly established gray wolf pack resides in that same drainage. Three tributaries to the river are located on the project, which support white sturgeon, bull trout, burbot and westslope cutthroat trout.

The tour began with an inspired and impassioned welcome speech by Boundary County Commissioner Dan Dinning. Commissioner Dinning talked about the importance of working farms, ranches and forests in maintaining the rural economy and traditions of the county. Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge manager, Dianna Ellis introduced the group to the refuge and detailed how the various habitats on the refuge support migratory avian and terrestrial species as well as aquatic life along Kootenai River riparian areas.

Idaho Fish and Game biologist, Wayne Wakkinen highlighted the variety of unique species that call the valley home, and spoke to the value of private, working forests in support of wide ranging species such as grizzly bear.

A wonderful lunch barbeque was served up by local legend JoJo Baker. In addition to his culinary skills, JoJo is an accomplished auctioneer and radio DJ. Every Wednesday, JoJo hosts a radio interview show on KBFI in Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint and this week’s show was broadcast live from the Conservancy’s Ball Creek Ranch. The show’s lineup included interviews with the Conservancy’s Steve Grourke, Jeff Knetter (IDFG), Di Ellis (USFWS), Mike Gondek (NRCS), Kirk David (IDL) and Deidre Raimo (USFS). After the show (and peach cobbler dessert), the tour continued with presentations on private industrial conservation easements by Jared France of Forest Capital Partners and an overview of the wetland restoration projects on the ranch. At the northern end of the valley, the group discussed more wetland topics as well as non-industrial forest protection projects on and adjacent to the Boundary Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Vital Ground is working with a fourth generation landowner to protect 150 acres of forest and agricultural land to the south of the WMA and the IDFG and NRCS are continuing to improve the habitat at Boundary Creek and the adjacent Smith Creek WMA. The final stop on the tour was to the Clifty Mountain Foothills project. Under blue skies and temperatures in the low 80s, the group hiked up logging roads and down into a naturally regenerated forest to learn more about the project. From the middle of Clifty the group looked down on the valley to the places they had visited throughout the day. With 180 degree views of this intact and wild landscape, it was easy to see how each existing protected land adds to the collective conservation success of the valley - keep working forests working and provide critical habitat and linkages for native species. --Steve Grourke, North Idaho Program

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