BOISE, Idaho — A conservation easement has been attained on an east-central Idaho ranch that's been a top priority for state and federal authorities for years because it contains important spawning streams for threatened salmon and steelhead.
The agreement between the Bonneville Power Administration, Idaho and ranch owner Karl Tyler signed last week protects about 8 square miles of ranchland. That includes about 10 miles of the meandering Lemhi River and half a dozen tributaries.
"I feel pretty strongly that ranching is of benefit to the environment and to the fish," said Tyler, 66, who owns several car dealerships in Montana. "I just wanted to set up a plan that would ensure that for future generations."
The community-based Lemhi Regional Land Trust played a key role in facilitating the deal.
"I feel like a lot of people in our community were very much rooting for the success of this conservation easement," said Kristin Troy, the group's executive director.
Mike Edmondson of the Idaho Governor's Office of Species Conservation said the $11 million deal is costing the state about $3.5 million and that the Bonneville Power Administration is paying the rest.
The state and federal agencies have obligations to try to boost the spring chinook and steelhead that both receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. The conservation easement is part of that plan.
"This (easement) is definitely the largest one this year, and one of the largest ones we've ever done," said Lorraine Bodi of the Bonneville Power Administration.
Edmondson said the Lemhi is the only tributary in the Salmon River basin that can produce the numbers of fish needed for the state to meet its federal recovery plan. The goal is 2,000 adult salmon returning each year.
"The Lemhi is what I would call one of the must-have populations for recovery," he said. "This was one of the most visible moves on the chessboard to make."
Tyler said his parents fulfilled a dream in 1962 by buying a ranch near the town of Salmon that had no irrigation "but lots of rattlesnakes." He left to attend the University of Idaho in Moscow and study animal science with a goal of returning to buy his own ranch.
He got a job washing cars at a dealership while going to school, moved up to mechanic and salesman before starting his own dealership in eastern Washington state. He opened several more car dealerships in Montana.
By 1994 he fulfilled his goal of buying a ranch near Leadore, and over the years accumulated eight ranches in the area totaling, he said, about 20,000 acres.
"I've been fortunate enough to add those as they became available," he said.
Negotiations for a conservation easement have been in the works for about a decade. Complications, besides the reduced resale value of the land with the conservation easement, were requirements involving fencing and removing environmental hazards from previous owners.
"I certainly didn't do this for the money," Tyler said. "I did it for the fact that I want this ranch to coexist for another generation of ranchers and fish."
Jeff Diluccia of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said the property on the valley bottom is also a key area for elk, moose, deer and other wildlife, especially in the winter.