Monday, March 30, 2009

Welcome Home, Salmon

Welcome home, salmon.

For the first time in sixty years, salmon will be able to return to a stretch of the Pahsimeroi River, thanks to a conservation easement and restoration projects by The Nature Conservancy and our partners.

The conservation easement protects 1214 acres of important wetlands, wildlife habitat and agricultural land on the Big Springs Creek Ranch in the Pahsimeroi Valley. The property is owned by Beartooth Capital, an investment partnership that specializes in acquiring and restoring ecologically important lands.

The property includes wetlands, tributary streams to the Pahsimeroi, pastures and irrigated agricultural lands. It is used by sage grouse, songbirds and a variety of big game animals.

“This is truly a wildlife paradise,” says Mark Davidson, the Conservancy’s Central Idaho conservation manager. “By working with Beartooth and our agency partners, we’re ensuring that this ranch continues to provide the clean water, beautiful springs and elk and salmon that make the Pahsimeroi Valley a special place.”

Read more.

Chinook salmon photo by Michelle Wilhelm/USFWS.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Owyhee Legislation

Stunning canyons, bighorn sheep and sage grouse, ranching traditions and world-class outdoor recreation: All typify the Owyhees, that huge expanse of sagebrush located in Idaho's southwestern corner.

Owyhee legislation that addresses issues facing both people and the land recently passed the Senate and is scheduled for a vote in the House. The Nature Conservancy is hopeful that this legislation will pass, creating a hopeful future for people and nature in the Owyhees. Eight years ago, The Nature Conservancy joined a group of conservationists, ranchers and recreationists to create a package addressing conservation, wilderness designation, the area's ranching heritage and outdoor recreation.

A lot of excitement surrounded that first meeting. And then the long, hard work of building consensus began. It wasn't always easy.

The result of that hard work is evident in the legislation: It would, among many other things, establish the first wilderness in Idaho in nearly 30 years. About 500, 000 acres of wilderness would be established in the Owyhees, protecting one of hte largest and most intact sagebrush habitats left in the West. The package also calls for a wide range of conservation measures, including acquistion of private lands in some wilderness areas and better management of off-road vehicle use.
The Conservancy recognizes the Owyhees as one of its highest priorities. During the course of the Owyhee Initiative, the Conservancy has worked with partners to establish cooperative weed management areas, protect sage grouse habitat and restore burned areas.

The Conservancy would like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Mike Crapo for his leadership of the Owyhee Initiative. "Senator Crapo really rolled up his sleeves to get this to Congress," says Will Whelan, the Conservancy's director of government relations.
The entire Idaho Congressional delegation supported the Owyhee package. We thank each of them for their commitment to one of Idaho's great natural areas and the people who live, work and recreate there.
Even when the legislation passes, the work in the Owyhees is not over. As Aldo Leopold once said, conservationists have to "think like a mountain," or in this case, like a canyon. "Passing this legislation is just one part of the initiative," says Lou Lunte, associate state director for the Conservancy. "It's a very significant part, but more remains to be done. We need to move forward to ensure adequate funding for conservation and to work with ranchers and recreationists in the same spirit of collaboration."
Photo credits: Sage grouse by Bob Griffith; all other photos by John McCarthy/The Wilderness Society.

Monday, March 23, 2009

More than Big Fish

We need your help to protect a ranch adjacent to Silver Creek Preserve. Every donation helps!

People come from all over the world to visit Silver Creek. What draws them here?

An easy answer might be: Big trout.

And certainly Silver Creek has plenty of big trout. But is that why people really visit?
After all, if big trout was the only goal, there are places where they can be caught much more easily. It has become an increasingly common practice for “outfitters” to have trophy trout ponds—and even trophy trout streams—were fish are fed a steady diet of protein-rich pellets.

You can catch the biggest fish of your life on such waters.

The largest freshwater fish on earth are right now caught in urban ponds of Bangkok managed specifically for trophy fishing. Mekong giant catfish, Asian carp, barramundi, giant snakehead, pacu—a weird menagerie of fish from around the globe, fed constantly so that they attain world-record sizes.

The angler sits in a pavilion and is served Thai food and beer while waiting for a bite from a fish that can be six feet long.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that such fishing would hold no appeal.
Because the big fish, after all, are not the point of Silver Creek, but rather are just a nice bonus. If big fish were the only goal, you could do that in a concrete ditch.

At Silver Creek, you can fish for big trout in one of the prettiest streams in the country. There’s the mule deer splashing across the stream at daybreak, the mink stealthily hunting along the banks, the clouds of mayflies, the haunting cries of sandhill cranes. The evening light. The clouds of mayflies. The open spaces.

Silver Creek would not be Silver Creek with houses lining its banks.

Nor would it be the same if houses lined the edge of the preserve. You have the chance, today, to make sure that doesn’t happen. Please consider helping us protect one of the last remaining ranches along the preserve. Your support matters.

Let’s keep Silver Creek one of the best trout streams in the country—for its big trout, yes, but also for the ranchland and the mule deer and the open space. --Matt Miller
First, second and fourth photos by Kirk Keogh; second photo by Ryan Urie.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

State of the Birds

How are birds doing in the United States?

For the first time, federal agencies and conservation organizations including The Nature Conservancy have produced a comprehensive State of the Birds, which examines population trends of all U.S. bird species and the health of their habitats.

The results are sobering. Many birds are in long-term decline due to a daunting list of problems including habitat loss and degradation, energy development, climate change , pollution and invasive species.

But the report found bright spots. Conservation efforts have caused signifcant increases in populations of bald eagles, ospreys, herons, ducks and other species.

Read the report, and learn more about how we can all help more species of our feathered friends.

Photo: Sage grouse by Bob Griffith.

Monday, March 16, 2009

In the Picabo Hills

There are so many great views at Silver Creek, but my favorite is one high above the preserve, in the Picabo Hills.

Looking down, you can see the creek as it meanders through the valley, and you can see all that beautiful open space--the farms and ranches that are going to stay that way because of 22 conservation easements that protect these properties from development.

When I'm up there, I can often hear duck quacks echoing in the valley, and usually can count on mule deer moving from the preserve to the hills.

It's nice to know it's going to stay this way.

Well, almost.

You see, there is one key property adjacent to the preserve that remains unprotected. It could become homes, or a lodge, or some other use. It is the property directly to the south of the preserve, the view you see from the visitor center when you look back towards the road.

We need your help!

The Nature Conservancy is in the process of purchasing a conservation easement on the property directly across from Silver Creek Preserve. It would protect 320 acres from development, now and for future generations. We are looking to our members, visitors and the local community to help fund the purchase of the easement.

Properties like this one protect what we value about Silver Creek: the beautiful views, the abundant wildlife, that glorious open space.

I know when I am high up in the Picabo Hills, I don't want to see houses when I look down. I prefer to see the deer and the elk, the eagles and the herons.

Please consider giving to this effort today, as I have.

Every donation counts.

If you have visited the preserve, you know this is a special place. You know this is worth protecting. Thank you in advance for your support. You are continuing the amazing conservation legacy at Silver Creek.--Matt Miller

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rep. Simpson Secures Funding for Henry's Lake Conservation

The Nature Conservancy would like to take this opportunity to extend a big thanks to U.S. Representative Mike Simpson for his role in securing funding for Henry's Lake conservation in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

Senator Mike Crapo has also long been supportive of the Henry's Lake area and helped make this conservation funding possible.

$2 million dedicated to conservation of land at Henry's Lake is included in the act, an incredible benefit for one of the most special places in Idaho and its working ranches, wildlife and open space.

A visit to Henry's Lake--located in east Idaho just 15 miles west of West Yellowstone--quickly reveals why it's so important for conservation. Yellowstone may be famous for its wildlife, but it's an incredibly inhospitable place in the winter. Big game animals like elk, moose, mule deer and pronghorn migrate to and from the park to public lands to spend the winter.

To get there, they pass through private ranches, like those found at Henry's Lake.

The ranching culture is an integral part of Henry's Lake, a fact not lost on many visitors to the area who enjoy the scenery, visit rodeos and soak up the Western atmosphere.

This also happens to be one of the fastest growing areas in Idaho. As more people call this area home, ranchers face pressure to sell their lands for development. When this happens, wildlife habitat and the rural economy suffer--and what drew people to the area in the first place is diminished.

Henry's Lake conservation will be funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that funds land conservation from off-shore oil royalties.

The Nature Conservancy believes that it is a priority to keep working ranches working at Henry's Lake. Representative Simpson recognized the importance of these ranches and requested the funding in this package.

Thanks to Rep. Simpson's and Sen. Crapo's efforts, there's a hopeful future at Henry's Lake--for people and wildlife.

Monday, March 09, 2009

70,000 Geese

Now is the perfect time to catch one of Idaho's great bird spectacles: Thousands of migrating white-fronted and snow geese resting at the Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area south of Parma. How to get there.

The Golden Eagle Audubon Society last week estimated 50,000 snow geese and 20,000 white-fronted geese on the wetlands there.

Seeing the huge flocks circle overhead and then settle onto the ponds is a spectacular sight. The best time to see large numbers of birds is between 9 am and noon, when they return to the safety of wetlands after a night of feeding in local fields.

The geese are resting here before continuing on a long migration that will end in the Arctic. You should be able see large numbers of geese for at least the next couple of weeks.

There are also tundra swans, various ducks and many other birds visible on the wildlife management area. A trip to Ft. Boise is a great way to start the waterfowl watching season.

Waterfowl make migration appear effortless but it's a taxing journey. Without wetlands, ducks and geese would have no place to rest and feed along the way. That's why The Nature Conservancy has a goal to protect, restore and enhance 7500 acres of wetlands in Idaho over the next 3 years. --Matt Miller

Monday, March 02, 2009

Hells Canyon, Oregon

The Nature Conservancy has been working in Hells Canyon in Idaho since 1987, when it acquired approximately 15,000 acres of land. Since that time, the Conservancy has been working to detect and control weeds in this stunning landscape, which includes the deepest canyon in North America.

Across the river in Oregon, another Hells Canyon conservation success has been announced.

There, the Nature Conservancy has purchased 27 parcels of private land located primarily in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Surrounded by National Forest, these lands are home to Oregon's largest herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

The U.S. Forest Service proposes to acquire the properties from the Conservancy using funds dedicated to land purchases. Public ownership would ensure public access for fishing, hunting and hiking on lands previously closed to the public.

The 27 land parcels, totaling 6,673 acres, are private inholdings surrounded by National Forest, concentrated mainly along seven miles of the Imnaha River and six miles of tributary creeks.

Hells Canyon is big, big country, the kind of place that can humble and scare you. It's a land of bighorns and rattlesnakes, jaw-dropping vistas and wide-open spaces, wildflowers and rugged cliffs. It's a great place for people and for animals.

Acquisitions like the one announced by the Conservancy's Oregon Chapter will keep it that way.