Easement protects East Idaho farmland

Capital Press Staff Writer


DRIGGS, Idaho - More than 300 acres of farmland has been set aside in Eastern Idaho under the first Farmland Protection Program easement in the state.

The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service closed on the deal recently in cooperation with the Teton Regional Land Trust of Driggs.

The 320-acre property, which has been in the same family for four generations, adjoins the scenic and popular Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Fremont County.

The farm’s close proximity to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks had increased its development value and the pressure on its owners to have it carved up into residential lots, said Kim Goodman, special projects coordinator for the land trust.

Property values all along Henry’s Fork and its tributaries are increasing dramatically because of the demand for second-home residential development, Goodman said.

“The area is experiencing tremendous growth with a lot of second home owners moving in,” she said. “Almost everything here has a great view of the Tetons. They’re right there and are great to look at.”

An article in the February issue of National Geographic now on newsstands examines the agricultural tradition around Driggs and Teton County, a major seed potato production area, and the increasing pressure of development. Driggs is only about 40 miles from the upscale resort community of Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Agricultural lands along river corridors in Eastern Idaho are under the greatest threat of development, Goodman said.

“There are so many people moving in, yet at the same time there are tremendous pressures on these old farmers to pass their land down to the next generation,” she said.

The conservation easement in Fremont County will permanently protect the 320 acres from second-home residential development and keep it as productive farmland, Goodman said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Protection Program provides matching funds for purchasing conservation easements from willing landowners who want to keep their farms or ranches in agriculture.

But that still leaves states or local organizations with the task of coming up with the half of the money that the federal government doesn’t provide. In some cases, state funds provide matching funds for easements, but that’s not the case in Idaho.

“We don’t have a state fund to help with that,” Goodman said. Coming up with the matching funds is the biggest challenge in purchasing conservation easements in Idaho, she said.

The Teton group is writing grants and talking to potential private donors in attempts to come up with matching funds to purchase additional easements this year, Goodman said.

Landowners must be willing to donate a majority of the development value of their property in negotiating a conservation easement. Still, the Teton group is finding agricultural landowners who are interested in striking a deal.

“We really only work with willing landowners,” Goodman said. “We aren’t knocking on their doors. They’re coming to us.”

For more information about agricultural conservation easements in Idaho contact the NRCS office in Boise at (208) 378-5700 or the Teton Regional Land Trust at (208) 354-8939 or on the web at www.tetonlandtrust.org


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