By Eric Grace
After 50 years of carefully tending the land with her late husband, Barney, Bonner County resident Lois Blasko has established a conservation easement over her scenic 350-acre farmstead. While many know Lois as their fifth-grade teacher from years past, she also has a passion for wildlife and open space, a lifetime spent immersed in farm life, and now a legacy she has established for future generations.
The land will continue to contribute to the agriculture- and timber-based economy while also ensuring habitat for wintering elk and deer, moose, bear, turkeys, bull trout and cutthroat trout, and an array of other animals that move up and down the Pack River corridor.
“Projects like this are about preserving a way of life,” said neighboring rancher Leonard Wood. “These lands allow us the freedom to raise our families in an outdoor environment, and to pass our farming and ranching heritage to future generations.”
Blasko conserved her farm through a grant program of the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The program is designed to help ranchers keep their land in agriculture through a voluntary agreement. Avista Corporation also helped with funding because of the large stretch of the Pack River, a river of concern for bull trout. A portion of the value of the easement was donated by Blasko. The Kaniksu Land Trust will hold the conservation easement.
The conservation agreement keeps the land in private ownership. Blasko can still farm and cut timber on the property. However, it cannot be sub-divided or used for residential, industrial or commercial uses.
“This program is a great option for families who value prudent and ongoing agricultural and timber production while allowing them to benefit the community by protecting the natural resources we all enjoy,” said Greg Becker, district conservationist for the NRCS.
The farm’s size, significant proportion of prime and important agricultural soils, and extensive frontage along the Pack River and other tributary streams helped to make it successful in this nationally competitive program. As development creeps in due to increasing growth in the region, this property helps to retain the agricultural values and scenic views that define the region.
In Blasko’s words, “Fifty years from now, who knows what types of crops or resources we will need to sustain this community. Now this land will continue to be available.” The land will also continue to serve the abundant wildlife that make it their home, and may be available for educational purposes as well.
By entering this agreement, Blasko has joined the ranks of other conservation-minded producers in the region who have protected their lands for the future while maintaining profitable and sustainable livestock operations.
Speaking as executive director of Kaniksu Land Trust, we are honored to work with Ms. Blasko to help protect the family farms and ranches at the heart of our region’s agricultural heritage. Local ranches like this create jobs, protect water quality, provide wildlife habitat and preserve the culture and history of our region.