Year: 2007
Acres: 1,647
Ecosystem: Cabinet-Yaak
Location: ID – Cabinet Mountains
Project Type: Conservation Easement

Summary: On September 6, 2007, Vital Ground celebrated the closing of the largest conservation easement project the organization has led yet-1,647 acres of key wildlife habitat and agricultural land in north Idaho that is now protected permanently from development. Clifty View Nursery, the Lon and Donna Merrifield family, the U.S. Forest Service, and Idaho Department of Lands teamed up with Vital Ground to make the Clifty View Foothills Project a success. The conservation easement, acquired through the Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, will ensure that Clifty View Nursery will be conserved for forestry, tree-farming, and wildlife habitat despite increasing development pressure in the region.


Gary Wolfe (left), Vital Ground’s executive director, and Lon Merrifield, owner of Clifty View Nursery, shake on
the deal. Photo by Kiffin Hope.

Portions of the property lie within the Cabinet-Yaak-Purcell Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone. Just over the Idaho-Montana border, two young female grizzlies were relocated into the west Cabinet Mountains by Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and federal officials during 2005 and 2006 to help bolster the region’s dwindling grizzly population. One of these new resident grizzlies denned in rugged terrain approximately two miles from the Clifty View property the winter of 2006-07.

This is the largest project Vital Ground has led to date-both in terms of the amount of acreage conserved, and in dollars directed to a single project. The state of Idaho recommended the Clifty View Foothills Project as its top choice for Forest Legacy protection in 2005 and, in stiff national competition with other Forest Legacy proposals, the project ranked 7th of 31 projects awarded federal funding this year. As the nonprofit partner and third-party facilitator required by the Forest Legacy program, Vital Ground played a pivotal role in negotiating the terms of the easement with the landowner and the state. Local, state and federal officials, as well as other nonprofit organizations, including The Nature Conservancy and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), also contributed support. The conservation easement will be held by the Idaho Department of Lands, and Vital Ground will monitor the easement in perpetuity under a memorandum of understanding with the state.