More than 2,500 acres on two ranches at the southern end of the Pioneer Mountains have been placed under conservation easements.

According to a news release from The Nature Conservancy, the Wood River Land Trust and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, voluntary agreements on the Brown Ranch and Triple M Ranch will allow ranching while restricting development, mining and other activities that would degrade the natural habitat. These protections are beneficial to wildlife, ranching and recreation, the organizations stated.

Both ranches lie in an area dubbed the Pioneers-to-Craters, which covers 2.6 million acres of sage-covered slopes, forests, river valleys and mountains.

A recent agreement with The Nature Conservancy and the NRCS protects about 2,000 acres of the Brown Ranch, about 9 miles east of Hailey. It is just west of the Little Wood River, with Sheep Creek and Hailey Creek running through it.

“This property has been in my family for four generations and part of it was homesteaded by my great-grandmother,” ranch owner Dan Brown said. “Growing up, I spent a lot of time there and have a strong attachment to the land.

“The land is very valuable for recreation, ranching and wildlife. I have thought about the decision to protect it for some time, in the hopes that we can preserve its resources and beauty far into the future.”

Even though much of it burned in the Sharps Fire last summer, the sage, bunchgrasses and wildflowers are in the process of renewal, said Tess O’Sullivan, conservation manager for The Nature Conservancy.

“It is easy to think of places where wildlife migration corridors have been cut off and where houses and roads dominate the landscape,” O’Sullivan said. “Working alongside our partners, we are protecting an entire landscape where we can tell a different story. This story will be about how people came together, saw the value of maintaining the land in its wild and natural state, and made a difference to protect it.”

O’Sullivan said the Brown Ranch property is open to public access and is used by hunters and sightseers.

Another agreement with the Wood River Land Trust and the NRCS protects 520 acres of the Triple M Ranch, in Butte County just north of Craters of the Moon National Monument. It is surrounded almost entirely by BLM land, and is used for dryland grazing, with cattle rotated through it as part of a larger operation.

“I’ve been working for the last 20 years to piece together a ranch large enough to be self-supporting. Putting conservation easements allowed me to generate enough financing to do this,” ranch owner Monte MacConnell said. “I started this process more than 10 years ago with the Wood River Land Trust. I learned a lot about conservation from them, and I want to thank them for this partnership.”

One of the features of the property that makes it attractive to wildlife is a year-round stream. According to the conservation organizations, the area is used by sage grouse, moose, pronghorn and other wildlife. There are six grouse “leks,” or mating areas, within a 10-mile radius of the property, said Chad Stoesz, land protection specialist for the Wood River Land Trust.

Land Trust Executive Director Scott Boettger noted that wildlife can’t tell the difference between public and private lands.

“That’s why working with private landowners like Monte to protect inholdings and wildlife corridors is so critical,” Boettger said. “This conservation easement is part of the bigger picture of over 90,000 acres of land protected in the Pioneers-Craters landscape over the years, ensuring that future generations will continue to experience the wonder of this landscape.”

Wade Brown, NRCS easement specialist in Idaho, said agricultural land easements help ensure that working lands stay in production.

“They preserve important open spaces for the spectacular wildlife that make Idaho special, so we encourage landowners to come in and find out how an easement can help ensure their vision for their land for years to come,” Brown said.

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