Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Quigley developers face wildlife issues

Impact on wetlands, remote gulch scrutinized

Express Staff Writer

A proposed housing development in the upper reaches of Quigley Canyon, including Dead Manís Gulch, above, east of Hailey, has drawn the ire of Fish and Game officials and local residents. Photo by Willy Cook

Plans made by Quigley Green Owners LLC to build 54 homes in the upper reaches of Quigley canyon came into conflict last week with the living arrangements of the canyon's previous inhabitants. During a public hearing at City Hall on Thursday, June 19, the developer's plans for development above Quigley Pond came under close scrutiny by state and local agencies charged with preserving wildlife habitat in the canyon.

The owners of Quigley Canyon Ranch, east of Hailey, are offering the city big amenities in exchange for annexation into the city limits; expanded hiking, biking and Nordic ski trails, an 18-hole designer golf course, and a year-round club house. All this would be provided to Hailey in exchange for the opportunity to build under the city's zoning codes, which could allow the developers to build three times the number of homes currently allowed under the existing county zoning.

About 200 animal species live in Quigley Canyon at various times during the year, including birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. But it is the potential for impact on big game species in the upper canyon that raised concern last week.

The areas in question are Dead Man's Gulch, which runs for about a mile north of Quigley Pond, and a narrow strip of Quigley Canyon extending to the east of the pond, a wetland area which is home to beaver, waterfowl and other animals.

Dead Man's Gulch is a craggy drainage with spring-fed wetlands and rocky cliffs extending about a mile to the north of Quigley Pond. It has long been off-limits to public access. Development leader David Hennessy has plans to build on eight estate-size lots up to 120 acres in size in Dead Man's Gulch.

The beaver pond area to the east of Quigley Pond borders Quigley Canyon Road, which provides access to hundreds of thousands of acres of public land to the east. Hennessy has plans for 46 homes on lots from 1 to 4 acres in size along a 1/2 mile of Quigley Canyon Road above Quigley Pond.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department has recommended that the developers abandon plans to build in Dead Man's' Gulch entirely and reduce housing densities north of Quigley Pond.

"Our primary issue with the developer's plans are to make sure that mule deer and elk can pass through Quigley Canyon to the north and south," said Idaho Department of Fish and Game staff biologist Mike McDonald. "The entire project is immediately adjacent to deer and elk winter habitat. We flew over Quigley Canyon this winter and saw 400 Mule Deer and about 40 elk, less elk than usual."

McDonald attended last Thursday's meeting and has worked with the developer to ensure safe passage for deer and elk populations moving through the canyon during fall and winter migration periods.

To meet this goal, the developer has provided designs for an 18-hole golf course that comply with Fish and Game requirements for open space wildlife corridors. Fish and Game recommends that housing developments such as the one proposed by Hennessy provide 600 to 1000 foot-wide wildlife corridors for migration.

Hennessy's answer to the Fish and Game recommendation has been to provide wildlife corridors on the golf course itself. Rather than surrounding all of the proposed golf course fairways in Quigley Canyon with high-end housing lots, Hennessy made plans for parallel fairways running north and south across the middle valley component of the 380-residence development.

Under his plan, big game herds, especially mule deer, would use the open space provided by the side-by-side fairways for migration purposes.

"We are working with the assumption that they (the wildlife) will use these migration corridors. Right now we are not at all comfortable with that assumption," said McDonald.

McDonald said that an alternate wildlife migration corridor already exists at the eastern end of Quigley Canyon, running along Dead Man's Gulch and the beaver ponds east of Quigley pond. This is also a final winter destination for herds of mule deer and elk, as well as mountain lion, coyotes, and wolves.

Bellevue resident John de Lorenzo was at Thursday night's meeting and raised his own concerns about building in the upper reaches of Quigley Canyon.

"I'm out there every weekend in the winter," he said. " There is a thriving community of deer, elk, mountain lion, and coyotes. It's nature's last stand out there in winter."

Nathan Welch, planning coordinator for the Wood River Land Trust expressed concern Thursday night about a 40-acre parcel of land belonging to the developers even further out Quigley Canyon beyond the planned development.

"We feel that this area should be discussed," he said. "It has potential for protection."

The Wood River Land Trust is a nonprofit organization that works with landowners through conservation easements and land donations to preserve wildlife habitat from real estate development.

Hennessy said Quigley Green Owners LLC are exploring the possibility of using the upper 40 acres they own in Quigley for a community "permaculture" farming project.

Wildlife consultant Michael Atchison of Lake to Forest Environmental Services in Boise presented a review of wildlife species in the canyon on behalf of the developers Thursday evening, advising the applicant to develop a "beaver management plan" for the area north of Quigley Pond.

"The beaver up there could be a problem," he said.

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