WRC Blog

Success on the Snake for Hells Canyon bighorns

Aug 27th, 2020  |  Written by Western Rivers Conservancy

Success on the Snake for Hells Canyon bighorns
Photo by Kirk Anderson

One of the Pacific Northwest’s prime nursery grounds for Hells Canyon bighorn sheep is now permanently protected on the Snake River near Hells Canyon! This month, Western Rivers Conservancy permanently conserved Ten Mile Creek Ranch, a property with superb sheep habitat, critical to the survival of Idaho’s northern Hells Canyon herd of Rocky Mountain bighorns.

With its steep breaks and rugged cliffs, the ranch offers bighorn sheep the perfect protection from predators and ideal lambing grounds for birthing and raising their young. These iconic animals, once ubiquitous in Hells Canyon, have seen steady declines since the mid-1800s, and today the herd numbers only about 150 head. Somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of the Idaho side of the herd uses the property for lambing. The ranch also provides a large, intact block of habitat that keeps bighorns isolated from domestic livestock, which carry infectious disease that have decimated the herd in the past.

To eliminate the threat of a 24-plot subdivision and protect this outstanding habitat, WRC purchased the 2,920-acre Ten Mile Creek Ranch in 2018. While we held the land, we worked with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to place a conservation easement on the property, while searching for a private buyer who shared our vision to keep the land wild and unbroken for the sake of its sheep, salmon and other wildlife.

In addition to its bighorn habitat, the ranch spans four miles of the Snake River, a reach that includes Chinook salmon spawning redds and migration habitat for sockeye salmon, spring and fall Chinook, and summer steelhead. With its proximity to Hells Gate State Park to the north and the 78,000-acre Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area to the south, the property will help unify a block of wild lands along the lower Snake, where bighorns, bears, elk and many other animals still roam free, and more than 100 species of birds can be found.

We hope the mighty bighorn will forever remain a presence in the intermountain West, and a lasting sight to see along the cliffs of its river canyons. Thank you for supporting our efforts at Ten Mile Creek and helping protect this special place for generations to come.