LEWISTON – A conservation organization has purchased the 2,900-acre Ten Mile Creek Ranch south of Lewiston with the aim of protecting important bighorn sheep habitat there.
The property includes a 5,000-square-foot primary residence, a 2,000-square-foot caretaker’s home and about 4 miles of waterfront property along the Snake River. But the bulk of the ranch purchased last week by the Portland-based Western Rivers Conservancy is undeveloped. It is made up of breaklands and finger canyons covered with a mix of bunch grass, cheatgrass and sagebrush and is occupied by bighorn sheep, mule deer, chukars and golden eagles. Fall chinook spawning nests adjacent to the property, and steelhead hold in runs along its shore.
The property borders the Redbird unit of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Craig Mountain Wildlife Habitat Management Area and private farm land.
Leaders of the conservancy, which sometimes sells its property to public land management agencies, are still formulating plans for the land but said their interest in making the acquisition was to protect habitat for bighorn sheep.
“This is some of the most important bighorn habitat in the Pacific Northwest,” said Zach Spector, the group’s project operations director. “The seller’s vision for the property aligned perfectly with our mission to keep the West’s great rivers healthy for fish and wildlife, and the outcome will be positive across the board.”
The property was owned by Rick Rupp of Port Townsend, Wash., and Tucson, Ariz. He purchased the ranch with a friend in 2006 with the intention of making it a steelhead fishing retreat. Two years later they attempted to subdivide a portion of the property with the idea of attracting others looking for a fishing access. However, those plans didn’t pan out and Rupp eventually bought out his partner and put the property on the market. Over the years he has worked with Idaho Fish and Game to implement conservation measures there.
Rupp called the ranch a special place and said he is pleased it was purchased by a conservation-minded buyer.
“It’s just an incredible piece of property and we wanted it preserved that way and we wanted it preserved forever,” he said. “We worked with (Western Rivers Conservancy) and came up with the right formula. I’m just thrilled. I think Western Rivers will do a wonderful job.”
Rupp and his wife, Diane Rupp, are retaining 39 acres along the river. He said the couple doesn’t have any plans for the parcel but wanted to keep it to stay connected to the greater Lewiston-Clarkston community.
“I’ve enjoyed the community a lot. I just haven’t spent enough time there.”
Spector declined to say how much the conservancy paid for the property, but it was listed for $7.9 million in 2014.
Frances Cassirer, Fish and Game’s lead bighorn sheep biologist and researcher, confirmed the ranch is heavily used by the Craig Mountain herd of bighorns, one of the healthiest in the greater Hells Canyon area.
“There are bighorn sheep on that property all the time, both ewes and rams, and there are some really important lambing cliffs there as well.”
When bighorn ewes lamb, they look for steep terrain with sheer cliffs that provide protection from predators that are less agile than the sheep in the rugged country. Cassirer said ewes come from all over the Craig Mountain area to lamb and raise their young there.
“Those lambing and rearing areas are really important,” she said. “They are kind of specialized habitat that doesn’t occur everywhere. Even though we tend to think of Hells Canyon as being really steep, those really sheer cliffs are kind of limited in location.”
Spector said he doesn’t yet know whether the group will allow public access to the property at sometime in the future, but for now it is not open.
“I think over the next six months we are going to be trying to make plans with all of the stakeholders,” he said. “We just need to understand the property better before we can make any kind of decisions.”
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