To protect Idaho’s bighorn sheep and help them continue to recover after decades of population loss due to disease and dwindling habitat, a recent partnership between Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC), the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and a private landowner offers a solution. Last week, the partners finalized a conservation easement that covers the 2,920-acre Ten Mile Creek Ranch along the Snake River. The move will provide permanent protected habitat that includes “prime nursery grounds” for the Hells Canyon bighorn sheep herd, according to a press release.
“This is an extremely important stretch of the Snake River, and we feel very proud of what we were able to accomplish for bighorns and salmon through this partnership,” said Zach Spector, WRC’s project operations director. “Thanks to the state of Idaho and the ranch’s new owner, we were able to guarantee that a very special herd of bighorns will always have this place for habitat and lambing.”
The ranch, which includes four miles of the Snake River, is where 50% to 80% of the state’s northern Hells Canyon herd roams because of the area’s “steep breaks and sheer cliffs” that give bighorn sheep a way to escape predators as well as “secure cliff habitat… where ewes give birth and raise their lambs,” according to the agency. Further, the conserved area, which runs between Idaho’s Hells Gates State Park and the 78,000-acre Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area, also includes key spawning areas for Chinook salmon as well as migration habitat for spring and fall Chinook, sockeye salmon and summer steelhead – species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
“The Ten Mile Creek Ranch property is a great addition to enhance the existing contiguous block of lands currently managed for fish and wildlife habitat protection around Hells Canyon,” said Don Jenkins, IDFG regional wildlife habitat manager. “We are excited to work with the new landowner to preserve this rare pocket of Idaho for its irreplaceable bighorn habitat and important salmon-spawning areas along the Snake River.”
“Recovering bighorn sheep populations depends on protecting places like Ten Mile Creek Ranch,” said Frances Cassirer, IDFG senior wildlife research biologist. “In addition to providing habitat for lambs and access to the river, wild sheep need to be able to move through country where they won’t be exposed to pathogens carried by domestic sheep and goats that have decimated the species and continue to limit population restoration. This project accomplishes exactly that.”