Silver Creek, one of the most productive trout streams in the West, is perhaps the premier Nature Conservancy holding in Idaho. It was here that the Nature Conservancy of Idaho got its start.
In the 1960’s the Janss Corporation owned Sun Valley Ranch, which encompassed the headwaters of Silver Creek. When Bill Janss – who also owned The Sun Valley Resort – decided to sell the ranch, sportsmen feared they would lose access to Silver Creek.
They contacted Jack Hemingway, the local Fish & Game Commissioner, who approached TNC in Portland, Oregon. (At that time there was no Idaho office of The Nature Conservancy.)
Spencer Beebe, in charge of TNC in the Pacific Northwest, agreed that Silver Creek was worth preserving; so in 1975, the Conservancy launched its largest private fundraising drive ever in the West, to purchase the 479 acre block of land for the reduced price of $500,000.
In 1976 the hard work began to restore the deteriorating habitat. But it wasn’t easy. What followed was three years of bitter controversy, as TNC initiated catch and release regulations and duck hunters complained bitterly about loss of hunting privileges.
"Neighboring farmers and ranchers disliked the Conservancy preaching land use changes when its own property was covered with noxious weeds," wrote State Director Guy Bonnivier. "And within the Conservancy itself, opinion was divided over whether we could or should manage the land in the long term.
"Fortunately the believers – those who thought this magnificent system of cold-desert springs needed to be restored and protected – prevailed. In 1979, the Conservancy hired a year-round manager who would live in the newly constructed visitor’s headquarters. After years of often bitter confrontation over the duckhunting closure, a regulated, 3-day-per-week hunt was negotiated.
"Also, the 800-acre Stalker Creek Ranch was added to the preserve and major habitat improvements were undertaken. Word began to spread that the fishery was rebounding. Slowly, public criticism began to subside."
The real success of Silver Creek Preserve rests not with the property purchased, but rather with a series of conservation easements. These are legally binding documents which outline the interests of the Conservancy and the landowner. The Conservancy currently holds more than 20 conservation easements on Silver Creek.
Local rancher John Stevenson has donated several easements to TNC. He stands to lower inheritance and income taxes. But he says that’s not the only reason he was willing to work with the Conservancy.
"The Nature Conservancy is easy to work with in a business-like way. They know what they need in the stream corridors, and I know what I need on my agricultural land. We were both able to work it out so we could get what we needed.
"One of the most pleasing things you can do as a property owner and rancher is to see a stream that has been used by cattle, that doesn’t have grass on its banks, but you’re not really able to afford to fence them out, and see the Conservancy putting in fencing at no cost to you – with water gaps so the cattle can still get to the water – and see what happens to that stream, as the grass takes over and life comes back. It’s worth doing."
Guy Bonnivier says the conservation easements started working in the 1980’s, about seven years after the Conservancy purchased Silver Creek. "And today this 470 acre block of land, with two miles of water, is buffered and expanded to more than 9,000 acres, with 30 miles of protected streams, because neighbors donated easements to us."
Return To Top