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Preserving the Crucial High Divide Area
“You don’t want to be part of something that’ll be lost in your generation.”
Merrill Beyeler couldn’t believe the news about the stream flowing through his ranch.
The eastern Idaho basin where he lives was once rich in salmon, but in 1995 only five were counted making the 900-mile inland migration. That incredible journey takes the salmon on a 6,500-foot climb to reproduce — higher and farther than any other fish on earth.
Seeing only a handful of salmon survive that journey was a jolt to Merrill and his community.
“Those were the really dark days, the sad days,” he said. “They were also maybe the best days because it made us stop and really evaluate what’s really important. Then they became exciting days when we began to roll up our sleeves and go to work.”
Merrill and fellow landowners gathered with state wildlife officials, federal land managers and local Native American tribes to discuss how to restore salmon to their native headwaters. Dams and diversions were removed, tributaries were reconnected, side-channels were created, ranchers changed their fences to not interfere with river flows, and conservation easements were formed.
“And it worked,” as Merrill hoped it would.
“The last two years were two of the largest migrations of salmon back into this area in 40 years,” he said. “After 20 years, the work it took, the reconnections made, the investments made by so many – we could finally see the results. The river was healthy again.”
This valley is part of the High Divide of Idaho and Montana, headwaters of two major watersheds and an essential wildlife corridor in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
LightHawk is working to spread this type of collaboration throughout the High Divide with our partners Heart of the Rockies Initiative. Together, we helped capture stunning aerial videography and had one of our volunteer pilots become a “voice of High Divide,” telling this incredible story of restoration.
As one of LightHawk’s Strategic Initiatives, the Heart of the Rockies is home to many critical issues including protecting land corridors, open spaces, river health and wildlife migration.
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