Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Big Wood River property protected

Up to 100 elk use 20-acre property during the winter

Express Staff Writer

This 20-acre property along the east side of the Big Wood River will remain undeveloped because of an agreement reached between the owner of the land and the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Photo by David N. Seelig

Twenty acres of riparian forest on the east side of the Big Wood River north of Hailey will remain undeveloped under a deal forged between the owner of the property and the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The nonprofit organization works to protect sensitive wildlife habitat from development.

Just south of Deer Creek Road, the Fawn Creek Ranch is owned by Wood River Valley resident Rod Rinker. The property has a quarter mile of river frontage and is characterized by riparian woodlands, wetland vegetation and small areas of dry upland.

A conservation easement given to the foundation by Rinker will limit residential development on the property.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game considers the Fawn Creek Ranch important elk habitat, especially as winter range and during fall migration. Fish and Game wildlife biologists provided a biological assessment of the property prior to the granting of the easement.

In a letter to the foundation, former Fish and Game Magic Valley Regional Supervisor David Parrish noted the importance of the property for valley wildlife.

According to Parrish, the property includes an overstory dominated by cottonwood trees, patches of red-osier dogwood and several willow species native to the Big Wood floodplain. The understory is made up of native grasses and forbs.

There is also a spring-fed stream that meanders across the property, which enhances wetland and wildlife habitat value during low river flows, Parrish stated. 

Above all, it's the property's value for elk that convinced Rinker to donate the conservation easement on the land.

"I just wanted to do something for the elk," he said.

How many elk use the property seems to depend on the severity of the winter, Rinker said. The harder the winter, the more elk show up.

Other species of wildlife that use the property include mule deer, moose, mink, river otter, beaver and migratory songbirds.

In the future, a small parking lot will be built next to the Deer Creek Road bridge across the Big Wood River, allowing the public to access the portion of the property along the river, said Tom Parker, wildlife land consultant for the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Parker said the foundation has only been accepting conservation easements for several years, and now has a total of eight statewide. He said the group's focus is accepting conservation easements that benefit wildlife, he said.

Between 50 and 100 elk use the Fawn Creek Ranch during many winters, Parker said.

"It was really important to get some protection for this property," he said.

Future development on a second 20-acre parcel owned by Rinker and adjacent to the property protected with the conservation easement will be restricted, Parker said. Under the agreement, only one home can be built there, he said.

Rinker will receive a reduction in property taxes due to the reduced value of the parcel with the easement.

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