By MARK A. YORK
Express Staff Writer
Blaine County commissioners unanimously approved Wednesday the first application for a conservation easement from the county's Land, Water and Wildlife Levy to Flat Top Ranch near Carey.
The decision moves the application on to the "due diligence" phase. The commissioners stipulated that a firm plan of future predator control be developed—and be nonlethal—before final approval and disbursement of any funds. The potential funding is for $300,000 (50 percent of the total cost) to protect 1,114 acres of land with a perpetual conservation easement that will be held, monitored and enforced by The Nature Conservancy.
"I would want to see some kind of plan for predator management and I would like it to be nonlethal," said Commission Chair Angenie McCleary before approving the motion.
After wolves reportedly killed a calf and four sheep on Aug. 27 on the Flat Top ranch—owned by applicant John Peavey—Idaho Wildlife Services killed three wolves three days later, a response that angered conservation groups and concerned citizens, some of whom attended the commission meeting.
"The levy process is a good one but it needs more attention to detail," said Jon Marvel, of Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project. "We're buying a property interest here. How will the riparian areas be managed? There are problems there now."
The planned easement includes two miles of river and stream habitat, according to Nature Conservancy surveys.
The wolf management issue evoked impassioned responses from the public.
Marvel said "aerial gunning" of wolves did not fit in with his idea of conservation values. He said authorities have to get the landowner's permission for "aerial gunning" of wildlife on private property.
"This should not continue in future years on property in which Blaine County citizens would have a vested interest," he said.
Lynne Stone, a Blaine County wildlife advocate, said she had seen a Wildlife Services agent in the area before the incident. "There should be no shooting and trapping of wildlife. You should put an assurance in here that our wildlife won't be shot over sheep and cattle."
Peavey and his family are working with The Nature Conservancy on a program to protect the entire landscape owned by the ranch. In a letter to the editor in the Mountain Express Wednesday, Sept. 14, Peavey said he never requested the wolves be killed. That decision came from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and "was in place as a result of previous depredations on neighboring ranches even before wolves showed up on our meadows and near our homes," he said.
"I'm glad we could all come together and talk about this today," Peavey said to the crowd of about 40 people.
In the end, citizen response favored the protection of the land.
"It is important to remember how critical this land is," said Jim Pierce of Hailey.
Defenders of Wildlife—which acts to protect wolves—met with John and Diane Peavey at their ranch last Friday. Suzanne Stone, the group's Northern Rockies representative, wrote in an e-mail that John has "verbally agreed to let us help him to build better deterrents for wolves in his area."
The Blaine County Land, Water and Wildlife Program is made possible by a two-year levy passed by county voters in 2008. The two-year levy has raised $3.4 million to help protect clean water in the Big Wood and Little Wood river watersheds, preserve fish and wildlife habitat, and to protect working farms, ranches and open space. Formulation of the criteria to qualify for the funds is the responsibility of Levy Advisory Board, a panel of selected citizens. They make recommendations to the commissioners on what projects to consider.
"I want the taxpayers to be reflected in the deed," Commissioner Tom Bowman said.
Advisory board member Claire Swanger said that it wasn't in there at present but could be in the final draft.
"Let's see a public access plan and a habitat enhancement plan," Bowman said.
"We need to work on the language of how predator control would occur," Commissioner Larry Schoen said. "There should be no lethal techniques, given the public concern."
Schoen said trapping should not be excluded for the purposes of research, including for radio collaring and relocation of wolves.
Alan Reynolds, Levy Advisory Board chair, as well as a former Blaine County planner and county commissioner, said that despite the emotion over the wolf issue it didn't negate the need to protect the land.
"Now the real work, begins," he said after the decision.