Making Way for Ducklings
In the arid landscape that is south-central Idaho, water is precious to humans and wildlife. The streams that course out of the mountain canyons are a source of food and a haven of cool refreshment for all kinds of creatures.
At Lava Lake Main Ranch, Copper Creek flows out of Blizzard Mountain at nearly 10,000 feet, down through a wide sagebrush canyon into our hay fields, and finally into Lava Lake. The lower reach of the creek was re-routed into a straight, bare channel many years ago to make the hay farming more efficient. Farming and ranching is a tough business, and decisions like that are completely understandable. But after some study we concluded that we could adjust the farming practices and improve a vital wildlife corridor. So, three years ago, with the help of government agency partners, we embarked on a project of restoring over 2 miles of stream corridor. Big earthmoving equipment was brought out to the Ranch and for a few months it looked like we were creating a giant parking lot.
The first few phases of the work are complete and we now have a meandering stream course, with rocks strategically placed to slow down the spring water flows, and banks planted with the woody species we find along our creeks in this region: willow, hawthorne, wild rose, currant and serviceberry. In addition, we seeded a buffer zone from 200 to over 500 feet wide on each side of the newly configured creek with a variety of grasses and wildflowers to help stabilize the system and provide cover and food for sage grouse and other species. This wetland area will be dedicated to habitat from now on.
The guiding spirit of this project is Alan Sands, a biologist with The Nature Conservancy who has been helping direct our conservation efforts at the Ranch for ten years. Alan’s vision and know how have been invaluable to us. I saw Alan and our friend and colleague Justin Stevenson last week when they came out to collect data on how the plants are doing. Most of the species are doing well but some have struggled and a few will need to be replanted; but overall Alan is pleased. He was delighted to report that he and Justin surprised a family of mallards on the creek—the first time lower Copper Creek has hosted nesting ducks in many a year.
When we see sage grouse in the grasses along the banks we will have a party.