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Preserving a Wild Place for Wild Creatures

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NAPLES, IDAHO – For his entire 72 years – save three when Uncle Sam required his service – Dale Sargent has lived on the property his parents settled on in 1927. Art and Ruth Sargent had thought about raising muskrats on Stampede Lake a mile or two south of Naples, but instead they raised a son and a daughter on ten acres just below Highland Flats at the heavily timbered foot of Mutiny Point.
    Seventy-five years later and long after Art and Ruth have passed on, the homestead – which grew to more than 500 acres – is still heavily timbered and Dale still carries on a tradition his father began.
    “Dad’s idea was to practice sustained yield forestry,” he said. “It was something no one had ever heard of back then.”
    Even today Dale wonders if it’s a concept practiced much, as timber falls on all sides of the remaining 230 acres encompassing his birthplace. But he loyally clings to the ideal of his father, and out of concern for what the future might bring, he has permanently protected the remnant forest that makes his property so unique. On December 31, 2001, a conservation easement held by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was completed on the Sargent property, ensuring into perpetuity the protection of a slice of prime habitat for wildlife of all kinds.
    A short driveway approaches Dale’s modest cabin nestled snugly among tall cedars and tamarack 115 years old. “The fire of 1910 missed this area,” he says. Apparently other great fires in the late 1800’s were the source of his forest and today a combination of whitepine, fir, larch, cedar and hemlock grow thickly within its borders. An occasional majestic Ponderosa pine also raises its head high into the sky.
    Five ponds with mixed meadows and marshes dot the property, and between the lure of open water and the cloaking effect of the forest, he has seen all manner of wildlife right from his living room window through the years. “There are probably more moose than anything,” he remarked, though whitetail deer are also common. There once was a time when it wasn’t unusual to see dozens of mule deer in nearby fields, but there aren’t so many of them anymore, nor of elk, either. They tend to favor the Dodge Creek corridor south of his place.
    Waterfowl flock to his ponds and Dale has watched otters play on their reedy edges and in the snow during winters gone by. Observing the antics of moose amidst the pond nearest the house has been a favorite pastime of his since childhood.
    Getting on in years himself, Dale began to wonder about the fate of the old home place and sought for a solution as to what to do with the property. “An awful lot of loggers have been wanting the timber on this place,” he said, but his interest was more in preserving the mixed stand of timber and the wildlife habitat for which it has come to be so greatly valued rather than cashing it in for countless truckloads of logs.
    Dale was a member of Elk Unlimited for some years, but the group, based in Coeur d’Alene, faltered once the founder died. “There was no one with his vision to carry it on,” Dale lamented. So about 15 years ago he joined the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The notion to acquire a conservation easement occurred to him several years ago because he has no children to pass the property on to. “I wanted to prevent the raising of houses instead of trees,” he said. At first, with the foundation absorbed in other matters, their response was less than enthusiastic. However, with the help of RMEF’s Tom Woodruff in Missoula, they were able to put it all together last year.
    One of the Sargent property’s greatest attributes is the thermal cover it provides big game animals. In an area where forest cover has dwindled more and more every year, having a place to go in winter when it is cold out in the open has become invaluable for deer, moose and elk. It is also part of a natural wildlife wintering area and provides an undisturbed corridor for wildlife movements to and from other wintering grounds closer to Naples.
    The terms of the conservation easement on Dale’s property prohibits any additional houses and allows for the salvaging of dead or dying timber up to 20,000 board feet per year. He’s happy with that, as it fits right in with what his dad and he have practiced for decades – the sustainable harvesting of timber. That philosophy is largely why he has such a fine, healthy forest on his property still.
    Dale identified the greatest threats to wildlife today as subdivisions and fences. Not far from his property a sign proclaims “Kootenai Orchards Subdivision” and small tracts are offered for sale by a local realtor. So even in his neighborhood the threats remain. But between his conservation easement and a large chunk of property nearby left in trust by Les and Violet Wyman as Wyman Wildlife Habitat, Inc., the future for animals struggling to coexist with humans looks a little brighter a little ways southwest of Naples.
    In going to visit Dale Sargent recently, I rode with Larry Book, a longtime activist for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in north Idaho. After 15 years of involvement, Larry and his wife Ardella announced at a recent fundraising banquet they would step down this year in order to focus more attention on their business. But during those years they have been a part of great successes in protecting elk and other wildlife and their habitat in the Panhandle.
    The Selkirk Crest Chapter of RMEF has been active in numerous projects and continues working to enhance and protect wildlife habitat in the northern two counties. Larry acknowledged that the Forest Service has been their biggest cooperating partner, but he says they’ve received the support of many others, including the Bonner County Sportsmen’s Association.
    Presently the chapter is participating in developing plans to realign portions of Highway 95 between Samuels and Naples and in the Copeland area north of Bonners Ferry. Their goal is to see the needs of wildlife addressed once these projects hit the ground. This chapter was also one of the few nationwide that went to the extent it did to provide WOW magazine, a kids’ publication about wildlife produced by the elk foundation up until recently, to children. Every fourth grader in Bonner and Boundary counties received a copy of it thanks to the Selkirk Crest chapter.
    Local RMEF members have also been helpful at the newly acquired Boundary Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Canadian border. This spring they assisted in planting thousands of trees and shrubs across 1400 acres to benefit a variety of wildlife both in upland areas and along the Kootenai River bottom. The property is now managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for the use and benefit of Idaho sportsmen and recreationists.
   To find out more about the activities of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in north Idaho, Larry certainly won’t mind you contacting him at 208-263-7416. vities of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in North Idaho, Larry certainly won’t mind you contacting him at 208-263-7416.

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Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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