Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cove Springs not a good fit

Truly, the future of Blaine County depends upon what we do today.

Beautiful Blaine County is awash with large development proposals, particularly in the Bellevue Triangle. One of the most troubling is before the county P&Z Commission now: Cove Springs.

If we allow poorly planned developments to move forward, we will soon lose the very things that make the Wood River Valley special: our rural character, our natural beauty, our wildlife, and our clean water.

With the assistance of several early visionaries, I started the conservation easement program in 1980 along Silver Creek, when I was Idaho director of The Nature Conservancy. Today the program conserves thousands of acres and many miles of streams and wetlands. Each landowner/donor chose to voluntarily take individual initiative for the collective benefit of the valley and their neighbors. Cove Ranch is part of this same neighborhood.

Although the developers have offered to donate a conservation easement, in my former career as TNC-Idaho director, I would never have considered accepting a several thousand-acre conservation easement that was tied to a large urban-like development surrounded by such high-value wildlife habitat. I believe that both of our local land trusts would agree today.

Placing such a development on a footprint of several hundred acres in such a habitat and claiming that wildlife impacts can be mitigated is utter nonsense. The mere presence of so many more people would displace sage grouse and big game, forever. Idaho Department of Fish and Game agrees, and has taken the unusual step of opposing the proposed development.

I have worked with landowners in several Western states in a style of cooperative conservation. TNC's longstanding president, John Sawhill, called the Silver Creek efforts the first and finest of what he termed "community-based conservation." The unique blend of ranchers, farmers, anglers, hunters, community leaders and conservationists all working together is sometimes forgotten. Not enough people recognize the tremendous effort for the benefit of our area the past quarter century of good work has been. To tarnish this great place as proposed in the Cove Springs development approaches scandal and disrespects those who have worked to keep Blaine County special.

In the early 1990s, I went back to TNC's international headquarters in Virginia for a meeting with John Sawhill. The first thing I noticed on the opposite wall fronting the elevator was a panoramic photo of Silver Creek taken from the hill above Sullivan Lake. The hills rising from the Cove Ranch across the valley were centered in the photo.

I asked Sawhill why, with the many thousands of conservation projects TNC had completed worldwide, he had chosen that photo of Silver Creek as the first thing a visitor would see when entering his office.

He replied: "That represents the heart and soul of our work—our ability and need to work with local people to save the world's last great places. Out in Idaho, folks proved it could be done. Besides, have you seen many photos more beautiful than that?"

Guy Bonnivier


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