Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hailey-area riparian lands protected

Easement adds to 103 acres already donated in Colorado Gulch

Express Staff Writer

Local landowners have granted a 51-acre conservation easement on lands at the mouth of Colorado Gulch south of Hailey, the Wood River Land Trust has announced. Photo courtesy of Wood River Land Trust

Another piece in the Wood River Land Trust's long-term goal of linking together a protected corridor along the Big Wood River for wildlife and valley residents has fallen into place.

Last week, staff with the Hailey-based land trust announced the donation of a 51-acre conservation easement at the mouth of Colorado Gulch, south of Hailey.

The easement, granted to the land trust by Grant, Sheri and Cat Stevens and Jeff Pfaeffle, includes about three-quarters of a mile of riverfront on the east side of the Big Wood River, a news release from the land trust states. The area is adjacent to 103 acres the Stevens family and Pfaeffle protected in 2007 using another voluntary agreement.

Altogether, the agreements protect 154 acres in Colorado Gulch and contribute to a continuous corridor of protected or restored land that stretches from Lion's Park in Hailey south to Colorado Gulch.

The Stevens family and Pfaeffle cite their love of the Wood River Valley, and in particular the Big Wood River and local wildlife, as their motivation for donating these conservation agreements.

"My enjoyment of the abundant access to our area's natural beauty and recreation is the motivation for creating the conservation agreement with the Stevens family," said Pfaeffle, a 40-year resident of the valley.

This second conservation agreement limits development on the property's farmland and protects cottonwood forest and native plants in the floodplain. The healthy cottonwood forest provides winter habitat for bald eagles, elk, moose, and mule deer and plays an integral role in maintaining the area's natural floodplain functions.

"This area is an important link in the future of the fishery," said Kathryn Goldman, Wood River Land Trust project coordinator. "Protecting this area safeguards important habitat for wildlife and allows the river to move naturally in the floodplain to create and maintain fish habitat over time."

The protected Colorado Gulch lands also contribute to the land trust's Healthy Waters Healthy Future program. According to a news release from the group, the ongoing project has identified Colorado Gulch as being of high priority for protection of the river and its fish populations. The land trust has been working since 1997 to create a protected greenway along the Big Wood.

Protecting the riparian area will preserve the natural functions of the floodplain by providing open areas around the river so water can overflow the banks during high spring runoff to recharge the aquifer.

Other benefits include the filtering floodwaters and the ability for woody debris to accumulate, which creates better fish habitat.

The newly protected area along the Big Wood River is a popular destination for fishing, hiking and mountain biking.

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