Rancher Jim Cenarrusa says he sold 9,000 acres of his central Idaho ranch to the Nature Conservancy because he knows the conservation group will take care of it. The land is at the base of the Pioneer Mountains, and is home to sage grouse and pronghorn.
The family will keep a small parcel for their next generation to farm, but Cenarussa says his kids aren’t interested in carrying on the family ranch.
Dayna Gross of the Nature Conservancy says ranchers who sell their land to the group often do so because they want to see it put to good use. The organization plans to keep leasing the land to ranchers in the area.
“There is a real interest in ranchers – especially among ones who’ve been in this landscape for long time – of keeping it working," says Gross. "Keeping it large and open; creating kind of a legacy. They’ve spent their lives working in this landscape and I think it’s really important for them to see that maintained.”
Gross says unlike some environmental groups, the Nature Conservancy believes ranching can be of benefit to conservation efforts.
Cenarrusa's land has a diverse mix of flora and fauna. It took Gross and her organization a few years to convince the rancher to sell to the group, but she says the landscape they are now able to preserve – which is situated right along the Pioneer Mountains – is worth the wait. She says it’s one of the biggest pieces of land the group has purchased in Idaho.
“That connectivity and that big open natural space is what makes the Pioneers really special.”
The property has sagebrush covered hills and riparian areas, and is near sage grouse mating grounds. Gross says it also is an essential corridor for pronghorn migration.
“One of our priorities is going to be changing some of the fences so the pronghorn have better accessibility to the mountains.”
But grazing will still take place on the Cenarrusa land. Gross says the conservation group plans to continue leasing to local ranchers, and sees these partnerships as essential for habitat protection.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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