Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Deal will protect 2,700 acres

Wood River Land Trust granted easement east of Pioneers

Express Staff Writer

The last bit of private land in upper Antelope Creek in the eastern Pioneer Mountains will be protected as permanent open space as part of a recently inked conservation easement.

In all, the combined 2,667 acres will continue to provide habitat for numerous species of wildlife while still allowing existing ranch operations on the property to carry on under the deal reached between landowners Jon Manetta and Kathryn McQuade and the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust.

Spanning portions of Custer and Butte counties, the Antelope Valley Ranch contains working farm and ranch lands as well as abundant wildlife habitat, a news release from the land trust states.

Mule deer, elk, antelope and sage grouse are commonly seen on the ranch. Providing water and vegetation for wildlife are Antelope Creek and Cherry Creek, both of which run through the isolated property.

Further adding to the importance the ranch holds for wildlife is the fact that it's surrounded on three sides by U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land, said Kate Giese, director of conservation for the land trust. As such, the property acts as an important wildlife corridor stretching from the surrounding hillsides to the riparian areas along Antelope and Cherry creeks, she said.

At nearly 2,700 acres, the Antelope Valley Ranch is the land trust's largest voluntary conservation agreement to date.

"Jon and Kathryn's gift ensures that a significant landscape will remain intact forever," Giese said.

Set in the middle of an extensive stretch of public lands spanning a large area between the Little Wood River and Copper Basin, the ranch provides critical lower elevation habitat and access to water for antelope, elk and mule deer, Giese added.

"It's kind of on the edge of the wild country," she said.

Voluntary conservation agreements are legal agreements between a landowner and organizations like the Wood River Land Trust. When landowners enter into a conservation agreement, they voluntarily give up some of the development rights associated with owning land in order to protect the land's health.

These limitations are binding forever, and future owners are also bound by the agreement's terms.

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