The Blackfoot Valley lies along the southern edge of the Crown of the Continent. It’s an extravagant mosaic of wetlands, potholes and land forms created by the retreat of once vast glaciers. The result is a great diversity of plant and animal life.
The pine, fir and western larch forests foster several rare plants, and rich wetlands attract breeding and migratory birds such as Sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans. Bald eagles nest and forage along the legendary Blackfoot River, which also supports rare westslope cutthroat and bull trout. The area also provides critical connections between wildlife habitat on the Crown and the mountain ranges to the south. The continuity of these links is vital
Thousands of acres have suffered from a combination of development and poor land use practices. These include de-watering of prairie potholes, poor weed management, fire suppression, placer and hard rock mining, plowing native prairie, cultivation and grazing along fragile stream and flood control alterations. Subdivision and road building have further degraded the watershed. Poor timber harvest practices and reduced stream flow from irrigation are major threats to the fishery.
The Blackfoot community has been a pioneer of community conservation. At their urging, the Conservation helped negotiate legislation and, in 1976, accepted the state’s very first conservation easement – along the Blackfoot River. From the Blackfoot, this extraordinary conservation tool took hold across the state.
Collaboration with the community is essential to conservation in the Blackfoot, and is the guiding premise for the Conservancy’s local efforts. The core of this success is the diverse assemblage of people and groups, including the Conservancy, who are working in partnership to protect this special place. Today, more than 110,000 acres of the Blackfoot have been secured by conservation easements – and 47 miles of the river are protected.
The Blackfoot Challenge, a grassroots group made up of all the river’s beneficiaries, now sits at the center of conservation efforts in the valley. The Conservancy played a major role with our purchase of 89,000 acres of land from the Plum Creek timber company in a project called the Blackfoot Community Project.
We are well on our way to our goal of preserving the water quality of this famous river; protecting vital wildlife habitat and the pathways that that connect it; and conserving sensitive plants. It is a goal that includes accomplishing these conservation achievements at the same time preserving the values, desires and traditional ways of life in the local community.