Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Big Wood River property protected

Wood River Land Trust acquires 306-acre Sheep Canyon Bridge parcel

Express Staff Writer

The Big Wood River winds through a 306-acre property that the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust recently purchased. The organization bought the land to protect it for fish and migrating big game.

More than a mile of river frontage along the Big Wood River as well as basalt cliffs and prime sagebrush steppe habitat above the river are now under the ownership of the Wood River Land Trust.

The Hailey-based conservation organization announced earlier this week its purchase of the 306-acre parcel of private land four miles west of Timmerman Junction, south of Bellevue. According to the land trust's planning coordinator, Nathan Welch, the land is surrounded by U.S. Bureau of Land Management property to the south, Idaho Department of Fish and Game lands to the west and east and U.S. Highway 20 immediately to the north. Welch said the majority of the property falls on the north side of the river.

The area's namesake sheep bridge that spans the Big Wood River canyon is just to the east, he said. The suspension bridge provides the only passage across the canyon for bands of grazing sheep that cross to the north or south side of the canyon depending on the season.

According to the land trust, the property is home to bald eagles and other raptors and is an important migration corridor for large numbers of elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope that pass through the area each spring and fall. Called the Sheep Bridge Canyon property, the land is also named after the steep-sided basalt canyon that the Big Wood River runs through.

The canyon also supports trout that swim up from Magic Reservoir to spawn in the Sheep Bridge Canyon's clear, cold water.

"It is a big stretch of the Big Wood," Welch said.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have designated the canyon as key sage-grouse habitat that may support breeding and nesting grouse. Protecting the property will ensure that the areas around the river remain healthy for wildlife, raptors and songbirds, a news release from the land trust states.

In time, the property will be opened to public use, Welch said. However, before that can happen, the group will need to address issues related to barbed wire and a network of roads that exist on the property, he said.

"It's really not set up for (public use) yet," he said. "We haven't had it very long."

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