Friday, January 14, 2011

Preservation for, not from

Land Trust seeks to preserve for future generations

Express Staff Writer

The staff of the Wood River Land Trust, shown above, works to preserve land for the next generation of valley residents. From left, Project Coordinator Erika Phillips, Development Assistant Ashley Wells, Major Gifts Officer Natalie Spencer, Director of Operations Trey Spaulding, Executive Assistant Melanie Dahl, Stewardship Coordinator Keri York and Executive Director Scott Boettger.

The Wood River Land Trust is continually acquiring or protecting thousands of acres of valuable habitat for sage grouse, pygmy rabbits and other species of concern. But Scott Boettger, the Ketchum-based organization's executive director, said protecting animals is not its main mission.

"It's not a wildlife issue," Boettger said. "It's about culture and a sense of place."

Rather than preserving land for the sole purpose of giving big game a place to migrate, Boettger said, the organization is dedicated to preserving the land for people, especially for future generations to enjoy.

"It's about a kid catching his first trout in the Big Wood, or about taking the grandkids for a walk along the river without having to trespass on private property," he said.

The land trust gets about 85 percent of its funding from private donors, and receives some grants from foundations. It was started in 1994, when a group of concerned citizens banded together to try to protect open space from development.

Boettger said people often approach him and say they loved how undeveloped the valley seemed when they first moved here. His goal, he said, is to try to preserve that sense of openness for valley residents, which is why the organization acquires large tracts of land for public use.

"We're not trying to buy it and lock it all up," Boettger said in an August interview regarding the land trust's largest acquisition, a 1,609-acre ranch near Arco.

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The land trust has more than 13,000 acres under protection, a vast increase from the nine acres it had protected in 1996. One of its first major accomplishments was the acquisition of the Draper Wood River Preserve in Hailey adjacent to Lion's Park. The preserve was created through an 80-acre trade with the state, and fully completed in 2007.

"Success begets success," Boettger said. "That's what really helped us start to have the success we've had here."

The land trust also led efforts to restore Hulen Meadows Pond, which was created in the 1990s due to a nearby highway improvement project. The pond was threatened as early as 2007, and the neighborhood residents launched an outcry to rescue the favored spot for anglers, beginning kayakers and swimming dogs.

"Who else could do that?" Boettger said of the organization's efforts. "You're stepping in where angels fear to tread, to an extent."

The future of the land trust's projects include more of the same, Boettger said, including continuing Hailey's Greenway Project, a series of 14 conservation and restoration efforts on parcels along the Big Wood River.

"All those things start to build, but there's so much more to be done," he said.

Boettger also said the land trust continually strives to help the community understand its role in the valley and what it's striving to do.

"'People protect what they love,'" Boettger said, quoting author Alice Walker.

He said he wants valley residents to begin to realize that the open space they love will always remain open because of the land trust.

"People need to relate, to remember the first time they came over the hill at Timmerman or fished the Big Wood River," Boettger said. "If we can get that recognition, I think we'll finally succeed."

Katherine Wutz:

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