“I talk to people at the other agencies three days a week, getting ideas and asking for help,” he said. “Between any of us, we know the right landowner to talk to, the right practice to use, or have the funding to implement a project. Pretty much anywhere we have an in, we’re helping each other out.”
Thus, these partners have created a system that not only gets the work done but ensures that projects are effective for a long time. With the mesic work the partnership is focused on through the Idaho Mesic Rangeland Resources Enhancement project, that kind of longevity is key. Compared to other sagebrush conservation work that entities like the Partners program may engage with landowners on, White said, mesic work may require more time to show success.
“The collective partnership has become increasingly effective at removing large expanses of conifers and invasive annual grasses, and results for those projects can be relatively quick,” White said. “Mesic resources, on the other hand, can be very labor intensive to restore, but are disproportionately valuable to wildlife and human resources on the landscape. Depending on drought cycles, it may take years to realize the desired outcomes of a conservation project in a mesic area.”
Cory Mosby, a staff biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, agreed, noting that the ephemeral streams that are higher up in the watershed and feed these wet meadow systems are some of the slowest to recover but can provide benefits that affect an entire watershed.
“We’ve only been doing this type of work for four or five years, and I think this is the type of work that takes the entire span of a career to demonstrate success,” he said. “I don’t think we can even begin to grasp the benefits that a well-functioning higher order stream [like Succor Creek] can provide to an entire landscape without being able to continue this work over a period of decades.”
That’s precisely why funding from sources like BIL is so important, Pyron said. As these aren’t just one-and-done projects, finding sustainable funding to carry on projects—and the relationships that create the partnership—is critical.
“If we can’t make sure the right people have the right tools to do the work, these relationships break down,” he said. “Keeping habitat intact means keeping the relationships intact.”
For landowners like Black who want to invest in ecological systems but have to balance that with economic considerations, an agency culture that comes to meet him where he’s at is what keeps him engaged in the habitat work.
“If we start on the same page, we can work through and get things resolved much faster and it becomes easier to help the ecosystem,” he said.
Investing in partnership, as it turns out, means investing in progress. If there’s living proof of this, it may just be found in the sage grouse and cattle enjoying the grasses, insects, water, and forbs once again provided by places like Chipmunk Meadow.