Monday, September 26, 2011

Grazing at the Flat Ranch

Blog post by Laura Yungmeyer, Flat Ranch summer intern

The pastures at the Flat Ranch have earned the envious gaze of more than few cattle-savvy visitors this season.

“You’re not letting that good grass go to waste, are you?,” they ask, surveying the verdant views from the porch of the visitor center. It’s nice to be able to answer visitors with assurance—our rotational grazing practices not only adhere to the land’s time-honored use as cattle ranch, but also ensure its utility as such for years to come.

Both Spring Eagle and Meadow Vue ranches leased rights to run cattle on the Flat Ranch property this summer, as has been the case for the past several years. A quick scan with the spotting scope thus reveals approximately 300 head of cattle, grazing contentedly across nearly 2,000 acres, in any one of our fifteen pastures.

Each ranch sends cowboys out to the Flat Ranch to move the cows from pasture to pasture in accordance with a pre-determined grazing rotation schedule. These efforts are designed to mimic the grazing movements of the bison that inhabited this area historically; they typically grazed small areas of grass intensely and then moved on, allowing for the grass to adequately recover season after season.

We collect data on the effects of grazing by maintaining exclosure cages in each pasture. These chicken wire and t-post structures are designed to preserve a small area of un-grazed grass for use as control data. At the end of the grazing season, we’ll measure the volume of grass in both the grazed and un-grazed areas to measure comparatively the overall impact of the grazing period. Chris Little, East Idaho Field Representative, will account for any instances of under or over-grazing as he designs next year’s grazing schedule for the Flat Ranch.

We’ve also installed several rain gauges throughout the property and are looking forward to utilizing such data to assess vegetative health in both the wettest and driest areas of the property.

Our operation as a working, sustainable cattle ranch speaks to the variety of elements that contribute to our goals here at the Flat Ranch, as we work to preserve not only the ecological assets of this area but the cultural and community assets as well. And as the summer months draw to a close, we at the Flat Ranch find our own boots a bit dustier, our denim with a few more creases—the cowboy bug is an undeniably fun one to catch.

Monday, September 19, 2011

South Fork Without a Fly Rod

Mention the South Fork of the Snake River to many outdoor enthusiasts, and the first thought is world-class fly fishing. And indeed, the South Fork offers legendary fishing for Yellowstone cutthroat trout, which often rise eagerly to dry flies.

Most of the South Fork's visitors--who come from all over the world--come to fish.

But the South Fork is a spectacular place even without a fly rod. And even for the most avid anglers, a trip here is not only about fish. It's about stunning scenery and abundant wildlife, too. Conservancy philanthropy staffers Justin Petty and Clark Shafer, avid fly anglers both, recently traveled the canyon without fly rods. Clark snapped these photos during the trip. (See below for directions to the hiking trail they used).

It's hard to believe this beautiful place was at one time slated for housing developments and even a golf course. The efforts of conservationists led to nearly the entire main canyon being protected from development. The Nature Conservancy, the Teton Regional Land Trust, Conservation Fund and Bureau of Land Management worked together to protect this special place through conservation easements.

The view you see today is the view future generations will enjoy.

With fly rod or without, visit the South Fork. It's a stunning testament to what your support of conservation accomplishes.

Directions: A great place to enjoy these views is on the trail accessed Dry Canyon Camp #2. After Pine Creek camp sites, look for the large sandstone cliffs on river left. Get to the river right and look for an island.

At the bottom of the island there is a slough that feeds the main river. Pull into the slough and row up river until you see a sign for Dry Canyon #3 camp site (DC2).

Park the boat here and walk up a short but steep trail to the designated camp site. You will see a trail that leads away from the river up Dry Canyon. This turns into a two-track and after 1/2 mile there is a junction.

At the junction, go left and up the hill. Walk for approximately one mile until you get to a view of the entire river corridor. This hike takes about one hour.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Ten Ways to Enjoy Silver Creek This Fall

Most people associate Silver Creek with the summer time. It's the time of tricos and rising trout, and Silver Creek makes the perfect stop for a weekend getaway or a stop on a cross-country road trip.

But fall is one of the most beautiful times on the preserve. With the days getting cooler and the wildlife getting active, there's a lot happening. Looking for an excuse to visit? Here are ten things to check out over the next two months:

1. Capture the colors. Silver Creek is known for the beautiful morning and evening light. The shifting colors are even more profound in the fall. It's often a kaleidoscope, with yellow aspens, red sunsets, purple hills. It's the perfect spot for photographers--and painters. But sometimes it's nice just to sit and try to take it all in.

2. Volunteer. Thousands of native shrubs will be planted along tributary streams and adjacent private property this fall. This ambitious effort will shade the streams, providing cooler water, less sediment, and better habitat for trout and birds. Want to give back a little to the creek you love? Phone 208-788-7910 to sign up.

3. Spot a moose on the loose. Many first-time visitors remark with some disbelief, "Moose? Here?" At first glance, the high desert around Silver Creek doesn't look like moose country. But the preserve has become one of the best places to see these animals in southern Idaho. Look for them in meadows and in the willows at dusk and dawn. Just give them plenty of space: A moose can run very fast and have a foul temper. Enjoy them, but at a distance!

4. Watch the small stuff. Sure, everyone wants to see a moose. But the conservation efforts at Silver Creek have paid off for a whole host of smaller critters, too. Recently, staff have been noticing a number of kids out with nets on the preserve. Follow their lead. Bushy-tailed wood rats, fence lizards, butterflies, beetles, least chipmunks, warblers and more all await your discovery. Look closely, and you'll be amazed at what you see.
5. Listen to the buglers. It's one of the wildest sounds in nature: the fall bugling of rutting bull elk. And already, it's echoing around the preserve, from the Picabo Hills and in the fields. When several bulls get going, it's guaranteed to send a chill up your spine.

6. Look up. It's a bit smoky at the moment, but later in the fall, the night skies are astounding. You'll be watching the Milky accompanied not only by the bugle corps (see above), but also howling coyotes, hooting owls and a host of other sounds. 7. Catch the evening flight. Flocks of sandhill cranes, ducks and geese circle overhead, pitching into wetlands for food and rest. They create their own chorus of whistling wings and haunting calls. You can often pick out some more unusual species, like canvasbacks and ring-necked ducks. For many of these birds, this is one stop on a very long fall journey. Wish them well along their way.
8. Of course: Go fishing. The tricos have faded away and the brown drakes are a distant memory. So are most of the anglers. Now is the time to have the creek to yourself. The fishing can be much better than you think. Try terrestrials like beetles, ants or damselflies in the afternoon. Look for some of the excellent hatches of baetis or pale morning duns. And if you're not afraid of the dark, try a mouse pattern at night to attract one of those legendary brown trout.
9. Write down your thoughts. For centuries, naturalists have kept field journals, providing important records ranging from bird sightings to climate. That tradition continues with many of today's visitors continuing to log what they see. Have an experience you'd love to share? Email us and we'd love to run it on Idaho Nature Notes in the coming weeks!

10. Follow your fancy. Hike. Canoe. Bird. Photograph. Relax. We're saving a place for you. Get out and enjoy it. The preserve is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We only ask that you respect nature and other people, that you sign in at the visitor center, and if you enjoy the experience, consider a gift to The Nature Conservancy, to ensure we can continue providing these experiences.

Photos: Sunset (Giuseppe Saitta), canoeist by moose (Laura Hubbard), elk (Matt Miller), ducks (TNC archive), angler with trout (Kirk Keogh,, boardwalk (Kirk Keogh,

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Silver Creek 35th Anniversary Poster Winner

The votes have been counted, and here's the image selected for Silver Creek's 35th anniversary poster, taken by Laura Speck.

The poster is currently being designed and will be available this fall.

Thanks to all contest participants--we had many incredible Silver Creek images submitted--and to everyone who voted in the contest.

Tomorrow: Ten ways to enjoy Silver Creek this fall.