Wednesday, December 15, 2004

TNC buys Pahsimeroi ranch

Property to be sold to local ranchers with easements in place

Express Staff Writer

A 1,800-acre ranch acquired by The Nature Conservancy-Idaho this month includes roughly 40 percent of the active wild salmon spawning habitat in the Pahsimeroi Valley, but the non-profit organization doesn't plan to hold on to the ranch for long.

As part of its acquisition blueprint, the conservancy will transfer river access to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. This portion of the property, which will amount to approximately 200 acres, will be managed as a public fishing, hunting and recreation area.

The remainder of the property will be saddled with conservation easements to protect wildlife habitat, ranching characteristics and in-stream water flows, and then sold to local ranchers.

Purchase of the Moen Ranch from Duane Moen was TNC-Idaho's largest purchase in two or three years. The purchase includes acreage in the Pahsimeroi River and Little Hat Creek valleys and also includes title to 45,000 acres worth of public land grazing permits.

"While over 90 percent of the lands in upper Salmon River basin are in public ownership, 90 percent of the occupied anadromous fish habitat is found on private lands," said Mark Davidson, the conservancy's Central Idaho conservation manager. "This purchase will help protect wild salmon and many other wildlife species."

According to the conservancy, the ranch provides critical spawning habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout. Over the last five years, the ranch has accounted for 40 percent of the Chinook salmon spawning beds, called redds, in the Pahsimeroi valley.

The purchase consists of two separate properties on the Moen Ranch. The 1,040-acre Pahsimeroi valley property is particularly important for anadromous fish species, a conservancy spokesman said. Big game species and songbirds are said to be common to the area.

The conservancy's purchase will also allow changes in water use on the property. Changes could increase surface flows in the overall watershed.

The 760-acre Hat Creek parcel includes a 45,000-acre grazing allotment. The property includes habitat for bull trout, sage grouse, bighorn sheep and elk. TNC said it will work with the Bureau of Land Management to achieve land health goals while also using the allotment for livestock.

And the plan to sell the property back to landowners is one of the fundamental tenets of the purchase.

"We bought the property at a full market value with all rights intact," Davidson said. "When we do a conservation easement on the property, the value of the property will be reduced. The idea is that we can make it affordable for someone to buy it who has a ranching operation in mind."

Ongoing ranching would continue with increased environmental scrutiny through the conservation easements, Davidson said.

According to a TNC press release, the conservancy considers the upper Salmon River sub-basin to be one of its priority conservation areas for Idaho. The organization has worked in the area since the early 1990s.

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