Two weeks in the West

  • A Wasatch Powderbird Guides helicopter drops skiers in the Utah high country

    PHOTO COURTESY WASATCH POWDERBIRD GUIDES
 

Updated 2/4/2008

A groan must have risen from some Western developers at the end of last year, as a flurry of conservation easements yanked hundreds of thousands of acres out of their reach. The rush was at least partly due to a federal tax incentive that expired at the end of 2007. (Congress is considering an extension.)

Landowners from Tucson to Missoula gave up development rights in favor of preserving their properties for agriculture, wildlife and open space. Some of the notable deals made around the region in December and January: In Montana, federal dollars will purchase easements on about 7,800 acres in the Blackfoot Basin. The easements are the latest success of the Blackfoot Community Project, which aims to conserve about 89,000 acres of former Plum Creek Timber Company property.

Along the state's Rocky Mountain Front, rancher Colin Phipps donated a 2,900-acre easement. On the Flathead River, Glenn Johnston donated nearly 700 acres, including islands and riverfront property, while the Siderius family put an easement on another 670 acres. Farther south, Peggy Dulany protected 8,500 acres of her J Bar L Ranch, which adjoins Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

California, already a leader in easements, gained even more protected land. The families of high-tech moguls Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard donated development rights on the San Felipe Ranch - roughly 28,000 acres, the size of the city of San Francisco. It joins more than 400,000 already-preserved acres east of San Jose, around Mount Hamilton.

Also in California, a 190-acre historic farm in Pescadero will grow pumpkins and Brussels sprouts instead of condos, while 3,200 acres west of Gonzales, near Highway 101, will remain a working ranch. In Paso Robles, the 150-acre Turley Vineyard joins a "purple belt" meant to preserve wine country. And Humboldt County investors and conservation groups are working on an epic easement that would manage 197,000 acres of redwood forests for timber and put aside another 12,000 acres for marbled murrelets and tailed frogs.

In Arizona, The Nature Conservancy bought the last big chunk of private land - 312 acres - along the Upper Verde River. The landowners also donated easements on another 2,600 acres upland. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve, slated to cover 36,400 acres near metropolitan Scottsdale, inched closer to its goal with a new 10-acre easement.

In southern Colorado, a 1,600-acre easement in Rio Grande County will protect more than two miles of the banks of the Rio Grande. In San Miguel County, 640- and 400-acre easements preserve ranchland and shelter the imperiled Gunnison sage grouse and Canada lynx.

To ease more landowners into easements, the Idaho Legislature is expected to again consider a tax-break bill that would give ranchers and timberland owners a state income tax credit equal to half the appraised value of the lands they protect. Colorado, one of the only Western states that offers tax credits for easements, acted to reduce abuses of its system with tighter standards and reporting requirements that went into effect Jan. 1.

On other fronts, powderhounds - motorized and non-motorized - have been interacting with wildlife, sometimes for good, and sometimes not. Wasatch Powderbird Guides faced down an enviro lawsuit that claimed the company's helicopters and avalanche-control bombs shatter the silence and scare wildlife in national forests outside Salt Lake City; a federal judge allowed the heli-skiing business to continue. Several hundred miles east, a Forest Service study shows that backcountry skiers and snowmobilers on Colorado's Vail Pass are crowding out threatened Canada lynx. On the other hand, in southern Colorado, 250 volunteer sledheads and two-plankers rallied to bring feed to thousands of starving deer, trapped by deep snow and severe cold in the Gunnison Basin.

A bit more good news - maybe. A ceasefire in the Klamath Basin, home to one of the West's fiercest water wars, once seemed as likely as peace in the Middle East. But a new billion-dollar agreement, hammered out by a consortium of tribes, fishermen, conservation groups, irrigators and government agencies, might be the equivalent of a plan for sharing Jerusalem. The deal would knock down four dams, restore salmon populations, let farmers irrigate, and provide cheap power. The struggles on the Klamath, which straddles the Oregon-California border, have lasted for more than a decade, producing furious farmers, huge fish kills and angry anglers. California's Hoopa Valley Tribe and some environmental groups say the consensus deal still diverts too much water to farmers. And the dam removal, which could begin as early as 2015 and would be the largest ever in the nation, depends on an agreement with dam owner PacifiCorp and half a billion dollars in federal funding.

High Country News Classifieds
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!