Friday, April 2, 2010

Citizens weigh in on conservation

Board takes input on how to spend levy funds


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Wildlife biologist Robin Garwood, center, joined about 70 other people at the first of three workshops to discuss the Land, Water and Wildlife Levy. Photo by David N. Seelig

Everyone seems to agree that the extraordinary natural environment is one of the biggest reasons we all live in the Wood River Valley. Now a move is on to identify specific characteristics of the natural beauty that surrounds us, and form partnerships to protect it.

The Land, Water and Wildlife Levy advisory board kicked off a series of workshops Wednesday in Hailey to gather criteria for spending $3.45 million for conservation efforts in Blaine County.

The money was raised from property taxes over the last two years after county voters approved a temporary levy to pay for environmental conservation.

Former County Commissioner Sarah Michael began the levy effort several years ago, which was then supported by four local nonprofit groups: the Idaho Conservation League, Wood River Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and Citizens for Smart Growth.

Judging from Wednesday's enthusiastic turnout, the Land, Water and Wildlife program could lead to long-term partnerships between landowners, conservationists and government officials to protect working ranches, wildlife corridors and scenic beauty in the county.

More than 70 people attended the workshop at the Community Campus. Ranchers, schoolteachers, conservationists, city planners and other residents took turns identifying on maps provided by Regional Planner Jeff Adams the places in Blaine County that they would like to see protected from development.

In many cases, their ideas overlapped. The Big Wood and Little Wood River corridors, the Bellevue Triangle and several side canyons tributary to the Big Wood, including Quigley Canyon, Deer Creek, Muldoon and Indian Creek, were identified as conservation priority areas by the group.

Farmland around Carey, as well as buffer zones of agricultural land between Hailey, Bellevue, Ketchum and Sun Valley, were also named as priority areas, as well as wetlands such as those at the mouth of Croy Canyon and in Democrat Gulch.

No specific private parcels were named during the workshop.

"It will be up to landowners and their partners to put these ideas forward," said Sandra Tassel, former director of the Trust for Public Land in Colorado.

Tassel said the advisory board would support the acquisition of conservation and public access easements and provide grants for maintenance and restoration projects approved by the County Commission.

A full report on the criteria workshops, based on input from the public, will be produced in May.

Tassel said the advisory Board is also taking comments "informally" by letters, phone calls and e-mails. For more information, contact the board at blainelaboard@gmail.com.

Two more workshops are planned to gather criteria for the grant application process: Friday, April 2, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the YMCA in Ketchum, and Wednesday, April 7, from 7-9 p.m. at Carey City Hall.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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