Friday, June 27, 2014

Buy the ranch

    Blaine County has a once in a lifetime opportunity before it to protect critical wildlife habitat and open space.
    Members of the public need to register their support at a public hearing next week to ensure that purchasing and protecting the Rock Creek Ranch doesn’t become an opportunity lost.
    On Tuesday, July 1, the Blaine County commissioners will take comments in a public hearing at 2 p.m. at the Community Campus Minnie Moore Room at 1050 Fox Acres Road in Hailey to consider whether the county should spend $1.1 million of its Land, Water and Wildlife Levy to help purchase the 10,400-acre Rock Creek Ranch southwest of Hailey.
    The proposed purchase is part of a complex deal that would not have come together if the Rinker family that owns the property had not decided to sell the ranch for half the asking price of more than $12 million. That decision generated a $3.8 million conservation easement placed on the property by the Natural Resources Conservation Service as part of the Department of Agriculture’s Grassland Reserve Program, interim purchase of the property by the Wood River Land Trust with money that included a loan from the Nature Conservancy, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game agreeing to become the final owner and manager of the ranch.
    The ranch would become one of IDFG’s 32 wildlife management areas, which encompass prime habitat for all kinds of game and fish. Sage grouse, whose populations have declined because of loss of habitat, would benefit from protecting Rock Creek Ranch. Along with 10,000 acres of land belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Rock Creek Ranch would help balance the loss of wildlife habitat to development that occurred in the Wood River Valley in the boom years.
    The combined properties would be a truly awesome area. The Rock Creek project is exactly what local voters hoped for when they approved the $3.4 million Land, Water and Wildlife Levy in 2008.
    The county shouldn’t let it get away.

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