Blaine County commissioners approved a $217,500 grant Monday to protect more than 1,000 acres of agricultural land and wildlife habitat from development.
The grant covered half the cost of The Nature Conservancy's purchase of a conservation easement on 1,114 acres on the Flat Top Ranch near Carey. The easement prevents the land from being developed in perpetuity, preserving wildlife habitat.
Matt Miller, spokesman for The Nature Conservancy, said Tuesday that the area protected by the easement is part of one of the longest migration corridors for pronghorn antelope in the world.
"The pronghorns migrate from Craters of the Moon [National Monument] into either the Lemhi [valley] or Montana," he said. "At both ends of the migration are public lands, but in between there are these private ranches that knit them together. It's a really important corridor."
The money was funded by the Blaine County Land, Water and Wildlife Levy, a two-year $3.4 million assessment on county property taxes. Levy funding was set aside 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.
Clare Swanger, Land, Water and Wildlife coordinator for the county, said the grant funds are awarded by a nine-member citizen committee after an extensive application project. The Flat Top Ranch easement is the first completed project, though two more are pending.
Swanger said the levy funds can only go toward the purchase of the parcel, and not toward legal costs, costs of appraisal or costs associated with continual ecological monitoring conducted by The Nature Conservancy.
Grazing will still be allowed by the easement, Miller said, consistent with the levy's goal to preserve working farmland.
The grant process started in March. Commissioner Tom Bowman said the process took nine months only because it was the first application, and wrinkles in the process needed to be ironed out.
"It's always hard to be the first one," he told landowner John Peavey. "We're so lucky this came together."
Levy Advisory Board member Alan Reynolds said future applications, such as a 721-acre easement on the Bar-B Ranch north of Carey, could be more quickly completed now that a process has been solidified.
"We have that template now in place, and hopefully we won't need to reinvent it next time," he said at Monday's meeting.
Peavey thanked the commissioners for the grant, saying it would help protect land that had been in his family for five generations.
"We're proud of the country, we're proud of the county and we appreciate the help in keeping it the way it is," he said.
Miller said he is similarly proud at the work done to protect the land on Flat Top Ranch through the easement.
"I think it protects one of the most special places in Idaho and the West, a place that still has everything we think of when we think of Idaho," he said. "It fits what the levy was looking at, which is protection of wildlife and protection of that rural heritage. It's why people love south-central Idaho."
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com