Wolf control mulled in Hailey ranch purchase

HAILEY — Idaho Department of Fish and Game managers and Blaine County officials are mulling over how to deal with conflicts between wolves and livestock on a 16-square-mile property set aside for conservation.

Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said the county’s request to make nonlethal predator control measures a last resort on the 10,394-acre Rock Creek Ranch was a “deal-breaker.”

Blaine County Commission Chairman Larry Schoen said the county wants lethal control measures — often used when wolves kill grazing sheep or livestock — only to be used when required non-lethal deterrents fail. Schoen said the county is trumpeting the idea — which would be a first on similar Fish and Game-managed properties — to set a statewide example for best grazing management practices.

The two agencies are in negotiations to split the cost of buying the ranch — once appraised at more than $13.4 million — from the Wood River Land Trust for $2.2 million to turn it into a Fish and Game-managed Wildlife Management Area. The ranch stretches along a dirt road that begins at Croy Canyon Road, west of Hailey, and ends at U.S. 20.

The Rinker family recently donated more than $7.4 million in land value by selling the ranch to the Land Trust in a deal aided by The Nature Conservancy. After negotiations with Blaine County finish, Fish and Game would hold the title to the land and bear the costs of managing it.

The land has 10,000 acres of grazing allotments, 31 cubic-feet-per-second of water rights, 24 miles of fishable streams and 89 miles of riparian habitat. It is home to sage grouse, pygmy rabbits and serves as wintering and transition range for deer, elk and antelope.

Before selling the property, the Rinker family created a $3.8 million Natural Resources Conservation Service Grassland Reserve Program easement over the land.

“That has these specific requirements, such as no developments, requirement of grazing, wildlife habitat is predominant in terms of management and other such conditions related to motorized access,” said Gregg Servheen, Fish and Game wildlife program coordinator.

The ranch has more than 10,000 acres of forage, Servheen said, and cattle are grazing there. Schoen said the county wants to see grazing continue there.

At a mid-July meeting, where the Fish and Game Commission approved releasing its $1.1 million obligation, Moore stressed that the commission isn’t tied to financing the property with Blaine County.

Should the county not budge on its requests, Moore said Fish and Game could call off the deal or find a new purchase partner. The department would “in no way ever require the permitted lessee for grazing to be mandated on any form of protecting their property relative to predation,” he said.

“We know those are unacceptable conditions and there is no reason for you (the commission) to ever consider them and wait on them (Blaine County officials),” Moore said.