Friday, February 28, 2014

Rock Creek Ranch plan moves ahead

County seeks binding document with Fish and Game


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Rock Creek Ranch contains hills, pasture land and 89 miles of riparian habitat southwest of Bellevue. Photo courtesy of Wood River Land Trust

The Blaine County commissioners are seeking more authority in an agreement with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game regarding long-term management of the 10,300-acre Rock Creek Ranch southwest of Bellevue.
    Thanks to efforts by the Wood River Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy, the ranch could soon become a Fish and Game wildlife management area, open for public recreation and protected in perpetuity from development.
    A proposed agreement presented to the commission Tuesday by Claire Swanger, program coordinator for the county’s Land Water and Wildlife Program, included details on grazing rights, ownership and data reporting, as well as a termination clause that would allow either party to end the agreement at any time.
    “The termination clause is a nonstarter,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said. “There has to be a contractual agreement in case the land or water rights sell. Taxpayer investment must be protected and conservation values not be compromised.”
    Swanger said the county would continue doing its “due diligence” before establishing a grant agreement between the county and the granting agencies. Any agreements would then be reviewed by the Land and Water Levy Board before being put before the commissioners for final funding approval.
    The    ranch has 89 miles of streams and is home to many species, including deer, moose, sage grouse, waterfowl, fish, raptors and pronghorn antelope. Combined with about 10,000 acres of surrounding BLM and state land, it would create 31 square miles of open space available for public use.
    The commissioners agreed last month to contribute up to $1.1 million from the Land, Water and Wildlife Program toward purchase of the $6 million ranch in order to preserve it for wildlife habitat and recreational access.
    Under a proposed plan, the Rinker family—the owners of the ranch—would also receive $3.8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grassland Reserve Program, and $1.1 million from Fish and Game.
    The Wood River Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy would be interim owners, selling the property to the Department of Fish and Game.
    Keri York, senior conservation coordinator for the Land Trust, said in an interview that the Grassland Reserve Program easement would prohibit the department from selling water rights, and would direct the use of water to support livestock grazing and wildlife habitat. She said excess water would be diverted into Rock Creek to support fish habitat.
    “The property has been on our priority list for a number of years,” she said. “This opportunity will provide tremendous public benefit and wildlife habitat. The Wood River Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy are committed to long-term involvement, which could include funding and volunteer support for restoration activities.”
    She said that could include restoration of stream banks and improvements to the sagebrush understory and the riparian corridor.
    “Grazing would be very limited,” she said. “Historically, it was grazed in the riparian corridor. Under the [Grassland Reserve Program], there would be a grazing plan that would strictly limit grazing there.”
    York said the program easement would also prohibit residential buildings and subdivision of the property. She said that after all details are finalized, the Department of Fish and Game would undertake a two-year process to develop a management plan with ample time for public input.
    Rock Creek Ranch is accessible through the Idaho Fish and Game Department’s “Access Yes” program, by foot and horseback only. No camping or fires are allowed.
    Swanger said the Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy play a pivotal role in speeding up the process.
    “Nonprofits often can act faster than a government entity can,” she said.
    Swanger praised the Rinker family for making the preservation of the property possible. Before the plan was made, the property listed for $12.6 million.
    “The Rinkers made a $6.6 million charitable donation to make this happen,” she said.




About Comments

Comments with content that seeks to incite or inflame may be removed.

Comments that are in ALL CAPS may be removed.

Comments that are off-topic or that include profanity or personal attacks, libelous or other inappropriate material may be removed from the site. Entries that are unsigned or contain signatures by someone other than the actual author may be removed. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or any other policies governing this site. Use of this system denotes full acceptance of these conditions. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

The comments below are from the readers of mtexpress.com and in no way represent the views of Express Publishing, Inc.

You may flag individual comments. You may also report an inappropriate or offensive comment by clicking here.

Flagging Comments: Flagging a comment tells a site administrator that a comment is inappropriate. You can find the flag option by pointing the mouse over the comment and clicking the 'Flag' link.

Flagging a comment is only counted once per person, and you won't need to do it multiple times.

Proper Flagging Guidelines: Every site has a different commenting policy - be sure to review the policy for this site before flagging comments. In general these types of comments should be flagged:

  • Spam
  • Ones violating this site's commenting policy
  • Clearly unrelated
  • Personal attacks on others
Comments should not be flagged for:
  • Disagreeing with the content
  • Being in a dispute with the commenter

Popular Comment Threads



 Local Weather 
Search archives:


Copyright © 2014 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.