Monday, October 01, 2012

Bringing 'em back - salmon and steelhead recovery project in the Upper Salmon

Photo © Paul Plante

The Nature Conservancy of Idaho and the Page family recently reached an important milestone on a project to help restore flows and improve fisheries in the Upper Salmon basin.

The Conservancy acquired a conservation easement on about 1,670 acres of the Big Creek Ranch owned by the Page family. The agreement will secure in-stream flow to aid in reconnecting Sulphur Creek to the Pahsimeroi River, and improve river and upland habitats. This acquisition is the first of a broader conservation effort in the basin targeted specifically for its collective potential to make an impact on water resources in the area.

The Nature Conservancy worked with partners from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Water Resources and the Idaho Office of Species Conservation in order to secure funding through the Snake River Basin Adjudication Habitat Trust Fund to acquire the conservation easement.  The Page family contributed a portion of the value of the easement through a bargain sale.

“We specifically looked for projects with water rights that we could leverage to make a conservation impact,” says Tom Page, who completed a similar restoration project in Montana. This legacy project pays tribute to Page’s father, who passed away in 2004. “Thanks to my father’s hard work, his intellect, his timing and his conservation ethic, we have the opportunity to make a lasting difference in country where all the native species are still present,” says Page.

“We applaud private citizens demonstrating leadership and seeking out common-sense solutions to complex species recovery problems,” says Mike Edmondson, Program Manager for the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation.  “What we have here with Tom and Mike Page is a win-win situation: the land stays in private agricultural production, stays on the county tax rolls, and the Pages control their destiny while benefiting ESA-listed salmon, steelhead, and bull trout through flow enhancement and riparian improvement.”

Pahsimeroi River. Photo © Paul Plante.

The Nature Conservancy of Idaho identified the Upper Salmon as one of the chapter’s highest-priority conservation areas in the state. It is an area that is home to a wide array of rare plants, intact ecosystems, and some of our most pristine wildlife habitat. The Conservancy’s goals in this region are: 1) to protect and restore key river/ riparian habitats for fish and wildlife, and 2) to protect and restore the private/ public land matrix that supports wide ranging mammals and plant communities.

In addition to leveraging water rights to reconnect tributaries, the long-term goals of the Page family include restoring Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Pahsimeroi, providing better habitat for bull trout, improving irrigation management and ensuring the opportunity for their children to see giant salmon swimming in a desert stream.

Securing a conservation easement on the property represents the first phase of the larger protection of the Big Creek Ranch. This phase will secure 120 acres of riparian corridor and about 2.5 miles of Sulphur Creek. It will also involve the removal of old feedlots from the banks of Sulphur Creek and migration barriers from irrigation diversions where necessary. Most importantly, it secures permanent water flows for salmon and trout.

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