Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Land trust receives 130-acre donation

Conservation organization secures more than 200 acres in December

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy Wood River Land Trust A stream snakes through a portion of a 130-acre parcel in the Bellevue Triangle. Owner Joyce Pearson donated the land to the Wood River Land Trust last week.

The Wood River Land Trust closed out 2006 with a bang.

In the span of two weeks, the Hailey-based organization secured 80 acres of property in a land swap with the Idaho Department of Lands and 131 acres in a donation from Joyce Pearson.

"This is the biggest conservation donation we have ever received," land trust Executive Director Scott Boettger said Friday about Pearson's property.

Two weeks earlier, Boettger said a land swap agreement with the Department of Lands was "absolutely the biggest thing we've ever done." That swap will permanently preserve a half-mile of riverfront property along the Big Wood River at the base of Della Mountain in western Hailey.

"The 80-acre property was going to be the biggest, but this is much bigger," Boettger said.

The 131-acre parcel donated by Pearson is located in the southern Bellevue Triangle, just north of U.S. Highway 20 and east of state Highway 75 near Timmerman Junction.

"This isn't just about access and recreational amenities. This is a working piece of property," Boettger said.

He said the property will permanently protect wetlands including two streams that are the headwaters of Willow Creek, which is a major tributary of the lower stretch of the Big Wood River north of Magic Reservoir. The land is a nesting area for sandhill cranes and an array of ducks and is surrounded by farmland.

Since 1994, the land trust has been committed to conserving, restoring and protecting open space, environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife habitat in the Wood River Valley.

"We hope this sets a precedence for a preserve type of cultural landscape down there," Boettger said. "The old adage that development begets development is true. On the other hand, conservation begets conservation."

The property is located within the sending area of Blaine County's new transfer of development rights program. The program, which is one component of the 2025 plan, aspires to limit development in the southern, rural, and environmentally sensitive areas of the county while encouraging it closer to the cities. Landowners in the transfer of development rights sending areas can sell their development rights to developers in the receiving area, closer to Bellevue in the northern tip of the Triangle.

"Properties like (Pearson's) have long been identified for their exceptional wildlife, scenic and cultural resources," Boettger said. "The challenge has always been—and has recently intensified—how to create incentives for landowners to protect the resources.

"This is an opportunity for us to show how the transfer of development rights program can work while protecting resources."

Boettger added that he hopes to use the proceeds from the sale of the development rights to further protect other properties in the area.

The land trust will begin drafting a management plan for the parcel. The plan could include leasing the land for agricultural use or developing a community garden operation.

"We don't know yet," Boettger said. "Think big, dream big."

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