Friday, April 29, 2011

Heart Rock Ranch

This week, landowners Harry and Shirley Hagey, with their conservation partners, shared their conservation plans for Heart Rock Ranch, located in the southern Wood River Valley.

When the Hageys purchased the two properties (formerly the Diamond Dragon and Spring Creek ranches) that make up the ranch in December 2010, they announced their goal of protecting the wildlife habitat, spring creeks and agricultural heritage of the property.

This summer, they begin an ambitious plan to restore creeks and wetlands and to protect important wildlife habitat. Read more about the conservation plan at the ranch.

Heart Rock Ranch's blog will include the latest updates on the project throughout the summer, providing details on projects that benefit wildlife, habitat and clean water in the Wood River Valley.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Moose Encounter

Our new seasonal staff member Jeff Barney had a memorable close encounter at Silver Creek yesterday.

Moose have become a common sight on the preserve. Many visitors at first express surprise, because the surrounding area is so arid. But the moose thrive in the healthy habitat along the spring creek.

Be alert and you may be rewarded with your own sightings. Spring is a great time to be at Silver Creek, with lots of wildlife and very few visitors. Have fun.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Signs of Spring

Some years, spring can seem a long time coming in Idaho. The overcast days seem to linger a bit too long into the season.

Still, already some of spring's natural wonders are apparent:

On a hike into the foothills last week, horned larks were everywhere. These birds are in decline in many grassland areas, but they are still pretty easy to find around Idaho. They're a cool-looking bird, and well worth seeking out. Western meadowlarks were also calling in every direction, but I couldn't find the long-billed curlews yet.

Sandhill cranes have returned to Silver Creek Preserve, as have many other migratory birds. Check wetlands around the state and you'll likely find many duck species, grebes and even swans.

Raptors are very active and can often be seen hunting, building nests and interacting with each other. You can see some amazing bird behavior, particularly around the Snake River Canyon.

Yellow-bellied marmots are out sunning themselves on rocks. This relative of the more-famous groundhog actually is only out and about for a short period each year. Come the summer's heat, and marmots will be back underground--likely until next spring.

Soon, foothills will be painted gold with arrowleaf balsamroot (pictured above), the first of many great wildflower displays around Idaho. (And later in the season, join us at Silver Creek and Flat Ranch Preserve for wildflower walks).

Across the state, wildlife is more active and visible and plants are beginning to bloom. Even if it's a bit gray and overcast, head outside and enjoy our beautiful state.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts

by Susanna Danner, director of protection, The Nature Conservancy in Idaho

A sheep rancher in the Southern Pioneers wants to keep her ranch in the family for her children and grandchildren.

A Wood River Valley fisherman wants to restore the willow and cottonwood forested banks where rainbow trout lurk.

A birder in Council wants to wake up in the dark to sneak up on strutting sage grouse.

A wheat farmer in Swan Valley wants to run an economically-viable farm while encouraging elk and deer to migrate across his property.

A resident of Stanley wants to gaze over the Sawtooth Valley and see unbroken vistas all the way to the mountaintops.

A forester in Bonners Ferry wants to harvest larch trees from a forest that is also a seasonal home to grizzly bears.

A Boise resident wants to walk her dog from her home up into the Boise Foothills while great-horned owls flutter overhead.

A cattle rancher in Challis wants to expand his operation while ensuring that the ranch never gets broken up.

What do all of these people have in common? They can benefit from the land trusts of Idaho. First of all, what is a land trust? Some kind of bank?

Land trusts are private, independent, nonprofit organizations that have joined with landowners to protect private lands in the United States for over 50 years.

There are over 1,600 land trusts operating across the U.S.

In Idaho, twenty land trusts and two local and state government-sponsored programs make up the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts. The Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts (ICOLT) was created to serve as a unified voice for all land trusts in the state.

ICOLT supports the values that so many Idahoans prize: clean drinking water, local food, plentiful wildlife, places to walk, ride, hunt and fish, and scenery that is unmatched in the Northern Rockies.

The land trusts of Idaho are diverse in size, scope, and mission. Land trusts work in all parts of our state, on everything from potato farms to wolverine habitat. Among other places, land trusts are key members of their communities in Pocatello and McCall, Salmon and Twin Falls, Driggs and Boise. But they all share one thing: a focus on private land conservation.

Land trusts work with private landowners to protect and enhance private lands through voluntary agreements called conservation easements and by assisting landowners with stewardship projects.

Land trusts are not environmental advocacy groups. Land trusts work closely with landowners and a large group of partners that includes county governments, sportsmen, Tribes, state and federal land and wildlife management agencies, local watershed groups and others to protect open lands.

To learn more about Idaho’s land trusts and which ones work near you, visit

Monday, April 11, 2011

Idaho Feral Hog Redux

After their presence was officially determined last year, feral hogs have become a hot topic in Idaho for conservationists and hunters.

What is the latest status of feral hogs in Idaho?

The hogs are still confined to the Bruneau Valley, where despite hunting and control efforts, they remain in signifant herds. A recent story in the Boise Weekly offers an excellent overview of the hogs and the threats they pose.

Hogs are prolific breeders and extremely intelligent. They seek out inaccesible places where hunters can't reach.

The fear is that they could spread to other parts of the state and become a major pest. In other states, like Texas, they have destroyed wildlife habitat and ranch lands. It is estimated they cost that state about $52 million a year.

The thick cover of the Bruneau Valley will make finding hogs a challenge. Added to this is the fact that much of the land is in private ownership, which can make access to the hogs difficult.

But are feral hogs really going to be a problem for Idaho?

Let's face it: While people don't want them established, they are also fascinated by these animals. After all, they are large mammals that thrive in spite of humanity's best efforts.

Certainly hogs could realistically spread along the Bruneau Valley to the Snake River Valley, causing damage to habitat.

Statewide, it seems hard to believe hogs could escape undetected in the sagebrush; the country is just too open. Idaho's habitat and land use is not the same as in Texas, so it appears unlikely that hogs could ever be as problematic.

Obviously, there needs to be control and preferably eradication of these animals.

Hopefully, the level of interest in these hogs can also extend to other, perhaps less dramatic, invasive species.

Cheatgrass, for instance, may not seem as compelling as herds of wild pigs, but its effects on the Idaho landscape are much more devastating than hogs. Aquatic invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels are still not established in Idaho, and you can keep it that way by cleaning your boat and recreational equipment. By not moving firewood, you can keep our forests free of non-native pests.

These actions may not be as exciting as chasing down hogs. But, in the long run, the smaller pests pose much more dramatic threats to Idaho's wildlife, agriculture and economy.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Green Beer

For Earth Month this year, The Nature Conservancy is celebrating sustainable food--and the eating choices you can make that benefit clean water, clean air and wildlife habitat.

We'll be linking to some of these stories throughout the month, and posting Idaho-related pieces on this blog.

To start, many beer drinkers are now interested in buying brews that are sustainably produced.

In places as diverse as Silver Creek and Bogota, Colombia, it's being demonstrated that beer production depends on clean water.

At Silver Creek, this is resulting in a barley farm that is significantly reducing water use--and helping protect the Silver Creek watershed. Read more.

National Geographic also featured sustainable beer production recently
, including the work at Silver Creek.

So raise a toast to Earth Month, and join us for more tasty (and sustainable) choices throughout April.

Photo by Giuseppe Saitta.