Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Collaborative conservation easements are win-win for Idaho

Hunting and fishing have been a way of life in Idaho for countless generations. Thanks to a recent public-private agreement with a conservation-minded rancher, that way of life has a stronger foundation for the future.

Working through the Lemhi Regional Land Trust, Salmon Valley native Karl Tyler and his family have signed a conservation easement with Idaho’s Office of Species Conservation and the Bonneville Power Administration to permanently protect nearly 5,000 acres of habitat along the Lemhi River and its tributaries — a big win for fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

These lands are important because hunting and fishing are a central part of life in Idaho. They are part of how we enjoy time with our families, passing on values of stewardship, hard work and respect for the outdoors. They supplement food we put on the table. And hunting and fishing are major economic engines here.

We cannot take that tradition for granted. In too many places, lost and degraded habitat has eroded America’s outdoor traditions. But the Tyler conservation easement is good news for Idaho.

In the Lemhi Valley, a mix of public and private lands sustain a rich diversity of fish and wildlife. Public land in the upper Salmon River Basin is recognized as unparalleled wildlife habitat, and private lands like the Tyler Ranch safeguard a critical habitat link for sustaining wildlife, fish and clean water. Together, private and public lands connect to create a crucible that is vital for the ongoing health of Idaho’s fish and wildlife.

The Tyler conservation easement protects miles of spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead returning from the ocean, as well as resident fisheries. The area protected by the easement accounts for 60 percent of the Chinook spawning beds in the Upper Lemhi River. The fish that spawn and are reared there provide a foundation for fishing opportunities many miles away, helping ensure that future generations will be able to continue enjoying our outdoor heritage.

The easement protects winter range for elk, mule deer and other animals that move across public and private lands looking for food and cover. Streamside habitats are rich with wildlife, and the Tyler property, along with adjacent protected ranch lands, creates a “riparian highway” for moose, pronghorn, deer and elk to access both sides of the Lemhi Valley.

In addition to obvious wildlife benefits, conservation easements such as the Tyler agreement also are a valuable tool that helps ranchers keep their working lands working, ensuring a legacy for future generations. Easements thus support the agricultural and recreational economies that are a foundation of rural communities.

The Tyler easement is but the latest work by Lemhi and Salmon Valley ranchers to help secure the region’s future. Either through easements they have signed or through conservation and restoration work they do on their land, many area ranchers have partnered with conservation organizations and state and federal agencies to improve stream flows and reconnect streams that open up miles of valuable habitat to fish.

Idaho’s hunting and fishing heritage depends on high-quality habitat. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and Trout Unlimited applaud private efforts like the Tyler Ranch conservation easement that are integral to keeping it that way. These agreements offer a wonderful way for landowners to conserve their land.

The Tyler Ranch conservation easement is a great example of how good private land stewardship provides benefits for today’s outdoor families for generations to come. Thank you to all who helped make it happen.

Toni Ruth works for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers in Salmon. Mark Davidson is the director of the Idaho Water Project for Trout Unlimited.