For the week of September 2 thru September 8, 1998  

SNRA makes historic purchase

Secures first easement since 1989

Express Staff Writer

After a decade-long hiatus, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area reaffirmed the goals of its 1972 mission statement by purchasing a 42-acre conservation easement west of Stanley.

With Friday’s $400,000 purchase, the SNRA increased its total land under easement to 18,654 acres. Conservation easements, also known as scenic easements, allow the Forest Service to purchase development rights from private landowners. The land is still privately owned, but any future development on it is restricted.

The newest acquisition, which belongs to Lucille Bowron, is in the Crooked Creek Area, approximately four miles west of Stanley on Highway 21.

"I am very pleased to know that if my children have to sell for any reason, whoever buys the property in the years to come would have to respect that special quality and not sell it to a developer," Bowron said in a prepared statement.

"I don’t want to sound anti-development because I know the community needs its resources in taxes, but still there are special places in this country that really needed to be saved. So, as a memorial to my husband, who loved that area more than most, and he had grown up in California where he fell in love with the Sierras as a young boy, it’s just very gratifying for us to know as a family that that particular view will remain pretty much the way it is for years and years to come," she stated.

The value of the $400,000 easement was determined through an appraisal conducted through a private appraiser and then reviewed by Forest Service appraisers. According to SNRA area ranger Paul Ries, the appraisal process takes into consideration the price of the "highest and best use" of the land without an easement versus the value of the land with an easement prohibiting construction. The landowner is paid the difference.

From 1972 to 1989, conservation easements worth $29.6 million were purchased on 78 different parcels of land--a total of 18,654 acres.

Funding for new easements dried up after 1989. But $2.6 million in congressional appropriations in 1997 and 1998 has jump started the easement process in the SNRA. After the purchase of the Bowron property, $2.2 million will remain for future purchases.

"Without the support of the Idaho congressional delegation, we would not have been able to renew our efforts of completing the job Congress gave us to do back in 1972 when they created the Sawtooth National Recreation Area," stated Bill LeVere, Sawtooth National Forest supervisor. "We really appreciate the interest and extra efforts by Congressman Mike Crapo and senators Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne in obtaining this funding."

When the SNRA was established in 1972, there was a total of 25,000 acres still in private ownership. Today, more than 20,322 acres remain privately owned, 18,654 acres of which have scenic easements.

In addition to the 42 acres of the Bowron land, the Forest Service has begun the appraisal process on five more parcels of private land, totaling 98 acres. Negotiations also have begun on six additional parcels involving an estimated 400 acres.

Part of the founding mission of the SNRA, said Steve Rinella, assistant area ranger for lands on the SNRA, was to maintain a private land base within the boundaries of the SNRA.

"Our goal is to keep as much of the private property in private ownership and on the tax roles in Custer and Blaine counties (as possible)," Rinella said.

The other side of the SNRA’s mission is to counter the threat to the scenic value of the Sawtooth Valley. The historical use of summer pasture for sheep and cattle was rapidly changing to home development. There are no subdivision ordinances or zoning regulations in Custer County. At one time, large subdivisions with over 2,000 lots were platted for recreation summer homes.

In the early 1970s, for example, a development on the west side of Highway 75--across from Sessions Cafe in Obsidian--portended an ominous future for development in the Sawtooth Valley. Now, the cafe is the only sign of the several dozen homes that once dotted the now open pasture. This land was reclaimed by the Forest Service once the SNRA was established in 1972.

"People would have an entirely different experience when visiting here," said Rinella. "There was and still is a huge subdivision potential throughout the area. Without easements, there would be no ability to control the number of structures, the kinds of structures and their placement. The impact to visitors would be high."


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