On the Flat Ranch Preserve
Jesse Creek On the Flat Ranch Preserve © Chris Little/TNC

Places We Protect

Flat Ranch Preserve

Idaho

Conservation and sustainable ranching practices can work together to balance the needs of people and nature.

Notice

In accordance with the State of Idaho’s May 1, 2020 “Stay Healthy Order,” Flat Ranch Preserve remains open for public use. However, the Visitor Center is closed until further notice. Please continue to follow social distancing recommendations for public health and safety and follow the guidelines to Recreate Responsibly. Stay a minimum of 6 feet away from individuals who are not part of your household. These guidelines are subject to change without notice.


 

Flat Ranch Preserve

At the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork River, the Flat Ranch Preserve lies within an area known as the Greater Yellowstone. This region is one of the last large, essentially intact systems on Earth; recognized globally for its geological and biological richness. Many species of wildlife roam across this awe-inspiring landscape as they travel between Yellowstone National Park, the Centennial Mountain Range and Central Idaho.

Recognizing that development of key valleys in this area would pose a threat to the Greater Yellowstone’s legendary wildlife, The Nature Conservancy purchased 1,450 acres of what is now the Flat Ranch Preserve in 1994. Through planned grazing practices, restoration efforts and thoughtful management, the Ranch has become a model that demonstrates how conservation practices can work for nature and people. It is a research and educational hub, community-gathering place and above else, a wildlife haven — frequented by elk, deer, wolves, bear and pronghorn. It is also home to one of the largest populations of nesting and brooding long-billed curlews in Idaho.  

The purchase of Ranch marked the beginning of the Conservancy’s commitment to  the Greater Yellowstone — a remarkable landscape that remains largely unspoiled, wild and irreplaceable. Its iconic wildlife, stunning scenery, and natural phenomena make the Greater Yellowstone one of the most celebrated places on Earth.

The Nature Conservancy is dedicated to keeping it that way.

Long-Billed Curlews

Each spring, the curlew’s distinct ‘ker-lee’ call whistles across the grasslands of the West, signaling that these migratory birds have returned north to nest. Easily recognized by their long, down-curved bill, the charismatic long-billed curlew is the largest North American shorebird. They spend winters near southern coasts on wetlands, mudflats, flooded fields and beaches.

It seems unlikely that a prairie habitat would serve as a hotspot for nesting shorebirds. But, nurtured by rotational grazing that keeps grass at favorable heights., the long-billed curlew makes its summer home at Flat Ranch Preserve.

Rotational Grazing Benefits Wildlife and Livestock

The rangeland of the Ranch is made up primarily of grassland habitat. Grasslands are the most altered and least protected terrestrial habitat on Earth. Only 5% of the world’s remaining grasslands are protected. Ensuring the grasslands at the Ranch remain intact and healthy is critical for curlews.

Rotational grazing is a holistic, high intensity, short-duration means of creating important habitat and species diversity in this grassland system. This practice of moving livestock from one pasture to another throughout the grazing season not only benefits plants, insects, birds and wildlife, but also benefits the cattle on the Ranch.

Long-billed curlew at JE Canyon Ranch in SE Colorado.
Long-billed curlew Long-billed curlews travel great distances to nesting grounds - sometimes flying over 1,000 miles. © TNC/Terri Schulz

Maintaining Curlew Populations

Like many grassland birds, long-billed curlew populations have been in decline in many parts of their range, including Idaho. However, on the Ranch curlew numbers have stayed high.

In 2009, Idaho Fish and Game did a survey in the Island Park area to try and get a better understanding of breeding long-billed curlew numbers in the Upper Snake region. From that survey they determined that they needed to take a closer look at Flat Ranch and the surrounding ranches. From the start, it was evident the Ranch and Henrys Lake Flat held a high number of breeding long-billed curlews.

Studying Curlew Migration Cycles

While the preserve hosts a relatively dense population of long-billed curlews, scientists know very little about their migration routes. Previously, little data existed on where the birds from this population went in the winter or about the threats they faced when they left the Ranch.

To better understand and address these threats, TNC Idaho and Idaho Department of Fish and Game joined the Intermountain Bird Observatory’s ongoing study of curlews and placed a 9.5 gram satellite transmitter on a female curlew, named Henrietta, during the summer of 2014. The transmitter immediately began to send out GPS coordinates that allowed researchers to track her movements. Two weeks and 900 miles later, Henrietta reached a small peninsula south of Puerto Peñasco in Sonora Mexico.

In May of 2015, Henrietta’s return was tracked to Idaho where she successfully laid five eggs in the short-grass prairie of the Ranch. Information gathered from following and studying this amazing migration cycle is invaluable in helping identify critical habitat for curlews and providing insight that is vital to their conservation.

Through continued conservation work at the Flat Ranch Preserve, we aim to not only sustain long-billed curlew populations and improve their habitat, but also to study their migratory behaviors so that we may give them a better chance at survival here in Idaho.

Notice

In accordance with the State of Idaho’s May 1, 2020 “Stay Healthy Order,” Flat Ranch Preserve remains open for public use. However, the Visitor Center is closed until further notice. Please continue to follow social distancing recommendations for public health and safety and follow the guidelines to Recreate Responsibly. Stay a minimum of 6 feet away from individuals who are not part of your household. These guidelines are subject to change without notice.


 

Located fifteen miles west of West Yellowstone, the Ranch offers a great place to view wildlife and learn about the Conservancy before entering Yellowstone National Park.

We invite you to explore all the Ranch has to offer. Wander the trails, fish the world-renowned Henry’s Fork, enjoy a picnic, or just relax on the porch and experience the beauty of the Flat Ranch Preserve.

Take a look

Depending on the season, moose, elk, pronghorn and sandhill cranes can often be seen from the deck. A spotting scope is available for use during visitor center operating hours. Bird-watchers should be on the lookout for bald eagles, great blue heron, short-eared owls and mountain bluebirds. Migratory birds such as long-billed curlews and ospreys also depend on this lush and fertile basin.

Take a walk

As you hike the self-guided trails through the lush carpet of seasonal wildflowers, you will discover a diverse landscape of wetlands, grasslands and waters. Thanks to restoration and conservation efforts, these habitats often reward hikers with bursts of colorful flowers and remarkable wildlife sightings.

Take a break

Surrounded by incredible views, our picnic area is the perfect place to enjoy your lunch and be immersed in nature. Some of the wildflower species growing around the area include mule's ear, larkspur, prairie smoke, and blue camas.

Enjoy wildlife watching, fishing and hiking at the Flat Ranch from sunrise to sunset year-round.

  • A visitor center, located just off the highway, is open seasonally to the public from 10:00am -2:00pm, Thursday through Tuesday (Memorial Day to Labor Day).
  • A spotting scope is available for use in wildlife viewing during the visitor center hours.
  • Make sure to save time for hiking, wildlife viewing and fly fishing.
  • Dogs are allowed on the preserve but must be kept under close control. This is habitat for sensitive wildlife. Please keep dogs at a safe distance from wildlife to prevent conflicts.

For the latest information on Flat Ranch or the summer lecture series, please contact Matthew Ward, Flat Ranch Preserve manager, at 208-558-7629 or mward@tnc.org

Facilities: Parking is available. Portable restroom facilities are available Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Your Chance to Give Back

Using science-based ranch management techniques, the Conservancy is demonstrating that conservation can improve the output of working lands without compromising the protection of fish and wildlife habitat. We invite you to join the effort.