Friday, June 5, 2009

Deal reached on Silver Creek property

No public access on new easement

Express Staff Writer

The Nature Conservancy recently finalized a contract with the owner of a 320-acre undeveloped parcel just south of the nonprofit organization's 950-acre Silver Creek Preserve. Under the deal, the owner has agreed to place a conservation easement on the land that will permanently preserve it as open space.

The property includes irrigated agricultural lands as well as areas of upland sagebrush steppe that extend up into the lower Picabo Hills. The area provides important habitat for wintering mule deer, which migrate down to the property when snows cover their higher ranges, said Matt Miller, spokesman for The Nature Conservancy's Idaho chapter.

To complete the deal, the group will need to raise an additional $300,000 to pay for the easement. The group is still looking for donors, Miller said.

The deal will add to the approximately 9,500 acres the organization has already protected through voluntary conservation easements reached with 22 landowners in the Silver Creek area. The organization was concerned that if the property wasn't protected by an easement, the view south from the preserve could someday include new homes.

The work near Silver Creek is considered one of the group's greatest successes in Idaho. Years from now, the area will remain as it is today because of the landowners who agreed to give up the development rights to their land, Miller said.

"It's one of those places you don't get tired of," he said.

The new easement won't allow for public access.

Conservation easements are legal agreements between landowners and organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. Landowners typically get a break on their property taxes by entering into easements.

Finalizing the agreement isn't the only work the organization will take on in the Silver Creek area this summer. It is also working to rehabilitate a 20-acre section of the preserve that burned last summer during the Nature Fire, which blackened nearly 15,000 acres. Also burned were nearby private lands and Bureau of Land Management property.

Miller said the conservancy is concerned that noxious weeds could take over before the group has had a chance to replant the burned area with native plants and shrubs. The organization is especially intent that cheatgrass not take over in the area of the preserve from Kilpatrick Road to the visitor center that burned during the fire. The area was blanketed in tall sagebrush before the blaze.

Jason Kauffman:

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