Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Conservationist up for $50,000 award

John French honored for work on Silver Creek

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum resident John French is one of four finalists for the 2010 Conservationist of the Year, an award sponsored by Budweiser and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

French, 65, has been a prominent supporter of The Nature Conservancy and the Wood River Land Trust, and has focused largely on preserving and improving Silver Creek and its fish and wildlife habitat. That includes working with scientists to control invasive species of weeds and invertebrates to protect the freshwater resource, as well as donating a conservation easement on his ranch, ensuring that future generations will enjoy the same unspoiled environment.

If French wins the award, he will garner a $50,000 donation to The Nature Conservancy, which nominated him for the award, to use for its programs. The award is scheduled to be announced in mid-January.

"I'm truly honored to be in the final four," French said.

French said that in the eight years that he's owned the Point of Rock Ranch along Silver Creek, he's gained an understanding of what he can do to naturally enhance the property and become "quite aware of weeds in the West."

French said that along with donating a conservation easement of about 500 acres to The Nature Conservancy, he has narrowed the section of the creek on his property through the use of "biologs," a biodegradable material that helps establish a new bank. This serves to speed the flowing water, keeping it cooler as well as flushing sediment downstream.

In regards to the weeds, French said he's been planting native grasses to combat the spread of toadflax, knapweed and thistle, which can ruin wildlife habitat. This landscaping has also included the replanting of cottonwoods, willows and river birch both near the creek bank and inland.

The award also takes into account French's work outside Blaine County, including an initiative to build a LEED-certified school campus in Yosemite National Park at which students would be able to learn about conservation and spend time outdoors.

Sharing nature with young people is one of the main reasons French said he became interested in conservation.

"Silver Creek is a very special place with a landscape that I believe cannot be duplicated," he said. "I would like to preserve that for future generations."

To vote for French to win the award, go to and register by Dec. 15.

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