Friday, August 1, 2014

Plan put forth to enlarge nature preserve

Land Trust, Bellevue seek $135,000 from Blaine County conservation levy

Express Staff Writer

The Howard Preserve borders the Big Wood River on the west side of Bellevue. Express map by E.B. Phillips

    The city of Bellevue and the nonprofit Wood River Land Trust are seeking $135,000 from Blaine County’s Land, Water and Wildlife Program to complete a land sale and swap to increase the size of the Howard Preserve riparian park along the Big Wood River.
    “The Howard Preserve has been a focal point for the Wood River Land Trust,” said Scott Boettger, the organization’s executive director. “We have been buying land and adding that to the complex.”
    The Howard Preserve is on the west side of downtown Bellevue. The Land Trust bought 1.5 acres of private property near the river at the south end of the preserve last year, between Poplar and Walnut Streets. Along with that purchase came two vacant Main Street lots that the Land Trust has no use for.
    “We have always planned to leverage them for future conservation purposes,” said Chad Stoesz, stewardship coordinator.
    Stoesz said the Land Trust would like to donate the two Main Street lots to the city. The lots would then be combined with $135,000 from the county’s Land, Water and Wildlife Program to exchange for four river lots (about one acre) at the north end of the Howard Preserve, belonging to Mick Halverson.
    “The Halverson property contains several large cottonwood trees, native grasses and shrubs, which provide habitat for many species of birds, bats and small mammals, such as fox, rabbits and squirrels,” states the application written by the Land Trust. “During the past 10 years, the Howard Preserve has been managed as a place for public enjoyment of wildlife habitat, and large mammals such as bear, moose and elk have been observed in the area.”
    As part of the deal, Halverson would end up with the two Main Street lots and the $135,000.
Stoesz said the four river lots at the north end of the Howard Preserve would be owned by the city, but placed under a conservation easement intended to protect the property from development.
The county will review the land-swap application in September.
“The thought is that those four lots will remain in their natural state,” Stoesz said. “We can hopefully have this done by the end of the year.”
The Blaine County Land, Water and Wildlife Levy was funded in 2008 by 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.
    The grant funds are awarded by a nine-member citizen committee after an extensive application process.   

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