Upper Snake River
Boating on the Upper Snake River.
Photo by Todd Kaplan/www.toddkaplanphotographics.com
At A Glance
- The Upper Snake River is under threat of unchecked development.
- We've succeeded in protecting more than 20,000 acres along the Upper Snake River.
- Preserving land along the river ensures economic stability in Idaho: Tourism, especially fishing, provides 1,200 jobs and more than $41 million in income.
- There is still much work to be done to save farmland, wildlife migration routes and valuable riverfront property from unchecked development.
An area known for its world-class fishing and other great recreational opportunities, the Snake River attracts thousands of tourists from around the world each year. But the beauty of this area also brings the desire for development, which threatens the pristine, untouched wilderness and the most productive agricultural lands in eastern Idaho. For nearly 20 years we’ve worked to conserve lands along the Snake River and have succeeded in permanently protecting more than 20,000 acres from development.
Henrys Fork And South Fork
From the mountains of Yellowstone National Park, the mighty Snake River begins its journey to the coast as two smaller rivers: the Henrys Fork and the South Fork. This part of the river is one of the most important and popular wildlife and recreational areas in the country. According to Dr. John Loomis of Colorado State University, the use of the South Fork and Henrys Fork of the Snake River by anglers and other visitors generates more than 1,200 jobs and more than $41 million in income.
The South Fork supports the largest native Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery outside of Yellowstone National Park and produces half the bald eagles in the state. In addition, some of the most productive dry farmland in eastern Idaho lies along the high bluffs lining the South Fork.
However, because of the Snake River’s natural beauty, both the South Fork and Henrys Fork are attractive locations for residential subdivision and development.
Conservation And Economic Stability
For nearly 20 years we’ve worked to protect lands along the Upper Snake River and the canyon stretch of the South Fork Snake River. A hallmark of our work is our understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. In this region of Idaho, the economy depends on the natural landscape: preserving the outdoors and agricultural lands ensures economic stability in the region.
Recognizing the threat of unchecked development on the region’s landscape, we have mobilized partnerships to protect critical, privately-owned properties along the Henrys and South forks, with a goal of maintaining the watershed’s open, agricultural character for the long-term benefit of wildlife and recreationists. Keeping productive land in farming was one of the main reasons local landowner, Cletus Hamilton, decided to work with us to protect his land. “We thought this was good to do for ourselves and our family, for society and for the land,” Hamilton said.
What Have We Accomplished?
To date, we have protected more than 20,000 acres along the Upper Snake River. Most recently, we were part of a conservation partnership, including willing landowners, that worked to save two of the last unprotected parcels of private land along the canyon stretch of the South Fork Snake River.
We assisted the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with the purchase of a 440-acre tract from a willing landowner that has more than two miles of river frontage within the magnificent South Fork canyon. The land had been approved for a 25-homesite subdivision. We also helped place a permanent conservation easement on more than 700 acres of privately owned land adjoining the purchased property. Key funding for these projects was provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) and the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA).
Conserving these two properties—one now in public ownership and the other remaining in private hands—benefits the citizens of Idaho and all those who visit to enjoy hunting, fishing, beautiful scenery and wildlife viewing. These lands also provide migration routes for big game like elk and mule deer, as well as habitat for imperiled species like the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.
“This effort shows that private working lands can still remain productive while providing assurance that future generation of Idahoans will have the same opportunity to enjoy these lands,” said Senator Jim Risch.
Much work remains, however. Other families with land of high conservation value wish to follow the example of our partner landowners, like Cletus Hamilton, and protect their magnificent land permanently. Our success will ultimately hinge on the generosity and conservation vision of potential new funding partners and generous donors.