Colorado Gulch

A cow pasture in the Colorado Gulch Preserve is being rehabilitated to attract plant pollinators like the monarch butterfly.

The Wood River Land Trust’s latest environmental conservation project has been the development of a “pollinator meadow” at a 10-acre former cow pasture in the Colorado Gulch Preserve south of Hailey.

The immediate benefactors of the meadow are expected to be insects, including the monarch butterfly, which hopefully will find the newly planted native wildflowers and habitat structures, including stacks of logs, brush piles and small holes in the earth.

The pollinator meadow lies within a 2-mile public access corridor of riparian environment between Croy Canyon Bridge and the site of the former Colorado Gulch Bridge, which was removed after the floods of 2017. Known as the Hailey Greenway, this hiking trail includes contiguous parcels of cottonwood and aspen forests and meadow that have been bought from private owners and protected by conservation easements over many years.

“Pollinators are central to the health of any productive ecosystem, and their populations are currently declining across the globe,” said Wood River Land Trust Development Assistant Sarah Mullins. “They allow for plants to reproduce and help create genetic diversity among our plant populations. They are critical to our food system, as many crops also rely on pollination.”

Mullins said habitat destruction, misuse of pesticides and climate change are contributing to the decline of these important pollinators. She said monarch butterflies have declined by 90 percent in the Western U.S. since the 1980s.

To help remedy the situation, the Land Trust has invited volunteers to help create a variety of pollinator habitats.

“While we generally think of pollinator habitat as flower fields, these brush piles and logs also provide critical nesting space,” Mullins said.

“Pollinator islands” in the pollinator meadow consist of patches of a variety of native and pollinator-friendly annuals and perennials, including black-eyed Susans and showy milkweed.

The Wood River Land Trust was founded in 1993 to conserve local landscapes from development. Most of its 17 preserves are open to the public, like Colorado Gulch and the 10,000-acre Rinker Rock Creek Ranch over the foothills to the west. Others, like the Church Farm and Gateway Preserves south of Bellevue, are not open for visitors. All are protected from further development. They are often open for mixed uses, including ranching.

The Land Trust’s first conservation project was developed when The Nature Conservancy in Idaho turned over a riparian conservation easement north of Ketchum that eventually became the 1.76-acre Lake Creek Preserve. That was followed by the 7.1-acre Boxcar Bend Preserve, a popular area for anglers.

Today, the Wood River Land Trust has 45 conservation easements throughout central Idaho. They include open spaces preserved for wildlife habitat and hunting access like Cowcatcher Ridge Preserve, and parcels of land preserved for riparian conservation and community recreation, like the Draper Wood River Preserve and boardwalk in Hailey.

The Land Trust has succeeded in part with the help of teams of volunteers who provide assistance with conservation projects. On Tuesday, June 30, from 4-6 p.m. the Land Trust and the Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited will team up to clean and weed the access trail in the Box Car Bend Preserve between Hailey and Ketchum along state Highway 75.

Participants will practice social distancing and are instructed to bring along gardening gloves and a full water bottle. For more information, go to woodriverlandtrust.org/volunteer or call the Land Trust office at 208-788-3947.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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