Conservation Easements Continue to Protect Idaho’s Pioneers-To-Craters Landscape


May 23, 2019

Sagebrush-steppe range with the Pioneer Mountains in the distance. Photo: NPS/Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Two New Easements Protect an Additional 2,500 Acres of Prime Sagebrush Habitat

In south-central Idaho, the scenic and wild Pioneer Mountains rise up out of the Snake River Plain to elevations of more than 12,000 feet. Craters of the Moon National Monument, managed by the National Park Service, lies just south of the Pioneers, and the 2.6-million-acre region is often referred to as the Pioneers-to-Craters. While the high peaks are mostly contained within the Sawtooth and Salmon-Challis National Forests, 160,000 acres of lower-elevation habitat critical to wildlife are comprised of working farms and ranches interspersed among BLM land.

Sagebrush-steppe, grasslands, river bottoms and other important habitat types in the Pioneers-to-Craters area support sage grouse, pronghorn, elk, mule deer, and many other species of wildlife. The working lands in this region sustain the local economy while providing critical habitat and migratory corridors for sagebrush-dependent wildlife, including sage grouse.

sage grouse

Sage grouse in Craters of the Moon National Monument. Photo: NPS.

Conserving these working lands is a priority for SGI and other conservation groups, ranchers, and communities in the Pioneers-to-Craters. A long legacy of local partnerships has built a strong foundation for using conservation easements to protect this landscape from fragmenting development pressures.

Groups like the Wood River Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and the USDA-NRCS through the Sage Grouse Initiative have worked together for nearly a decade to fund and implement conservation easements that allow working ranches to flourish while also providing security for the area’s sagebrush-dependent wildlife.

“Partners like The Nature Conservancy and the Wood River Land Trust are critical to building support for community-driven conservation efforts like we’re seeing in the Pioneers-to-Craters area.”  ~Thad Heater of the USDA-NRCS Conservation Outcomes Team.

Most recently, the NRCS partnered with The Nature Conservancy and the Wood River Land Trust to place conservation easements on more than 2,500 acres on two ranches in the area. Two-thousand acres of the Brown Ranch were conserved by The Nature Conservancy and NRCS. The Brown Ranch is located nine miles east of Hailey, Idaho and provides opportunities for public recreation in addition to critical wildlife habitat.

Five-hundred-and-twenty acres of the Triple M Ranch were also conserved through a partnership between the Wood River Land Trust and the NRCS. Just north of Craters of the Moon, this area is nearly surrounded by BLM land which makes it especially valuable as wildlife habitat. There are six sage grouse leks within a ten-mile radius of the Triple M Ranch.

These two easements build on a legacy of private lands and open space conservation in the area. In addition to the two most recent protections, the NRCS worked with The Nature Conservancy and the Wood River Land Trust to fund 50,000 acres of easements in the last decade. An additional 38,000 acres have been conserved through efforts led by The Nature Conservancy and the Wood River Land Trust. All told, nearly 90,000 acres of private, working ranches and farms have been conserved.

Moist meadows offer a range of food choices for grouse: flowers, leaves, buds and insects. Photo by Bill Mullins, Wood River Land Trust.

“Conservation easements embody the win-win working lands solutions that SGI promotes across the West. We are thrilled with the two recent easements and indebted to The Nature Conservancy, the Wood River Land Trust and local producers who recognize the incredible values these landscapes provide,” notes Heater. “By providing incentives to keep working ranches whole, we are ensuring families and wildlife will continue to stay on the land. That’s what NRCS‘s Sage Grouse Initiative and Working Lands for Wildlife conservation is all about.”

>> Read more about SGI’s conservation easements in the Pioneers-To-Craters area >>

>> Read more about Wood River Land Trust’s work in the Pioneers >>


The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.