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Easement protects bighorn sheep habitat along Snake River south of Lewiston

| August 13, 2020 1:00 AM

A conservation easement on a 2,900-acre Snake River ranch will help preserve important bighorn sheep habitat.

The easement on the Ten Mile Creek Ranch along the Snake River south of Lewiston, includes land comprised of steep breaks and sheer cliffs that provide critical protection for bighorn sheep. The canyon land allows them to easily escape predators in the rugged terrain, Jennifer Bruns of Fish and Game said.

Up to 80 percent of Idaho’s northern Hells Canyon bighorn sheep herd, which number roughly 150 animals, use the area, Bruns said.

“The property provides secure cliff habitat along the Snake River where ewes give birth and raise their lambs,” she said.

The ranch spans 4 miles of the Snake River, and includes spawning redds for Chinook salmon and migration habitat for spring and fall Chinook, sockeye salmon and summer steelhead, all listed under the Endangered Species Act, Zach Spector of the Western Rivers Conservancy said. The group partnered with Idaho Fish and Game to secure the easement.

“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 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 was purchased two years ago by Western Rivers Conservancy after being listed for almost $3.5 million. Once the easement was in place, it was resold.

The property is located about 10 miles south of Lewiston, between Idaho’s Hells Gate State Park, to the north, and the 78,000-acre Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area to the south.

“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, regional wildlife habitat manager for Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “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.”

Once abundant in Hells Canyon, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have seen steady declines since the mid-1800s, largely due to disease and habitat loss.

— Press staff