Montana Association of Land Trusts

Private Land Conservation

Glenn Marx
Executive Director
PO Box 892
Helena, MT 59624

Conservation Conversations

Conservation Conversations is a 12-part series of interviews from the Montana Association of Land Trusts that seeks to present a deeper and broader understanding of private land conservation and the work of Montana’s land trusts. Each month in 2010, a leader within the Montana land trust community will voice their personal perspectives about the value private land conservation brings to Montana’s landscape, to the people of Montana and Montana’s economy. The interviews are conducted by Glenn Marx, executive director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. This is number ten in the series.

October 2010

Cal Ryder Cal Ryder

Cal Ryder was born in 1929 near the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin, and has spent nearly all his 81 years living near a river. He worked on farms as a teenager and after graduating from high school worked on a dredge for the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and then served in the U.S. Army in Tokyo starting in 1946. He graduated from Winona State University with a degree in education (biology and industrial arts) and while in college worked as an assistant dredging inspector for the Corps of Engineers. After a brief stint as a hardware salesman in Saint Paul, Cal and wife, Irene, moved to Riverdale, North Dakota - a “government town” built for the construction of Garrison Dam on the Missouri River - and taught school there for seven years. He toyed with the idea of going into wildlife management and instead obtained a University of Minnesota masters degree in administrative education. The major portion of his graduate and postgraduate course work was in field biology, which allowed him to spend the rest of his teaching career in biology and environmental sciences. He worked at the UM Itasca Biological Station in Minnesota and spent three summers at the Flathead Lake Biological Station at Yellow Bay. In 1960 he started a 26-year education career in Great Falls that included assignments as a junior high science teacher, the Cascade County Environmental Education consultant, Adjunct Professor for MSU-Cascade County Student Teacher program, state coordinator for a national energy education program and a five-year hitch as assistant principal. He retired in 1985. He then served for ten years on the Cascade County Conservation District and nine years on the city/county planning board. Cal and Irene have been active hunters, photographers and outdoors people who enjoy the “natural world.” He and Irene, now married for 60 years, live in rural Sanders County along the Bull River. Cal and Irene are active in local conservation and natural resource organizations, they donated a conservation easement on their Bull River property, and Cal is an active member of the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Conservancy board of directors.

Q: You’re an associate member of the Green Mountain Conservation District in Sanders County, a member of Audubon, a member of the Cabinet Resources Group plus a board member (and an organizational representative) on the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Conservancy. You must like to keep busy?

A: Yes, I have a full plate as far as volunteer groups go. I had been on the Cascade County Conservation District for 10 years and so when I moved over here they asked me if I’d like to be an associate member and I said yes, I would enjoy that and appreciate that. I enjoy working with people who volunteer their time and effort, and enjoy their good attitudes and values.

Also, the Avista Corporation settlement agreement involved the area we lived, and I was very concerned about that area. Avista is required to mitigate for impacts from its dams and I wanted to maintain a natural environment in the Noxon area - particularly in the Bull River area - so I volunteered to serve on their management committee, which involves participation on the terrestrial resource advisory and/or the water resource advisory committee. I also sit on other committees and meetings to keep myself informed. And I serve on other groups such as the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Conservancy, so yes, I’m fairly busy.

Q: Your property borders the Bull River Wildlife Management Area, and you were supportive of the creation of the Bull River WMA. Has management there turned out the way you hoped?

A: Yes, to the present time it is managed as I had hoped. Everything is remaining quite natural. There have been no changes, and the only way the land has changed is through improvements, such as restoration work along the Bull River. In the early days the Bull River area was logged heavily, it had been channelized in some places, and so restoration along portions of the river is seeking to rectify those detrimental impacts.

There were seven entities involved in creating the South Fork conservation area: Avista, MFWP, USFWS, Conservation Fund, NAWCA, Plum Creek and Genesis Mining. It is an excellent example of government agencies, corporations and charitable organizations collaborating for the benefit of the natural resource and the public. It is an excellent and important area because it provides year-round habitat, winter range and a wildlife corridor between the east Cabinets (mountains) and west Cabinets. It’s a corridor that’s used by grizzly bears and mountain lions and all the big game in the area.

Q: Why is private land conservation important to Sanders County and NW Montana residents?

A: I think it’s very important to the economy here, for one thing. Hunting, fishing and timber management are major sustainable economic activities for this part of the state, and while mining plays a role, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation, and timber are most important.

And the area is recognized by the people who live here and visit here as very much a natural area and an excellent area for recreational activities. And conservation easements can not only enhance the hunting and fishing and other recreational options - hiking, photography, birding - but easements can also contribute to the sustainable nature of forests through forest management programs. Conservation easements allow lands to remain as forests and not subdivided into small, non-forest tracts.

The parcel of land we live in was actually proposed to be subdivided into half-acre parcels…120 acres were (on paper) subdivided into half-acre parcels. Lots fronting the highway were going to be commercial lots. My neighbors and I fought it all the way to Washington, D.C. and we won. The proposed subdivision was eventually changed to 11 to 16-acre parcels.

That same kind of development was proposed up and down the Bull River, and that kind of development would detract from the economy of Sanders County and the Noxon area. It would have destroyed the natural world of the Bull River, and the Bull River is a unique place. It is the most unique floodplain that I have ever seen in the United States, except Florida. The high water gradually spills out of the banks and is absorbed by native shrubs and grass, and because of the wetlands and vegetation along the river the water is absorbed like a sponge. At flood stage - about once every five years - we’ll have water from mountain to mountain in the Bull Valley, but it’s not a roaring or damaging river because of the meanders and vegetation in the floodplain. That condition must be maintained.

Q: You’ve had a conservation easement on your property since 1996. Why did you decide to work with The Nature Conservancy on the easement, and looking back, have you ever second-guessed your decision to create the conservation easement?

A: We have a conservation easement on our Bull River property, and we also had a conservation easement on some land along the Rocky Mountain Front that we previously owned.

Years ago, when we lived in Great Falls, the Rocky Mountain Front was our playground. We hiked, backpacked, and rode horses all over the Front. I told Irene, “We have to own a piece of this.” So we bought a place near Choteau, right up against the Rocky Mountains. I think we were either the second or third conservation easement on the Front. That easement was with The Nature Conservancy, so when we moved to Sanders County and looked into a conservation easement, we were familiar with The Nature Conservancy, and of course the CFPOC did not exist then.

I’m very pleased how the conservation easements in the Bull River and on the Front turned out. A conservation easement is a property right, and the landowner has the right to construct the easement. I wrote our easements to be very restrictive - far more restrictive than most conservation easements - because that’s the way I wanted them. I think that’s an important point - that the landowner builds the easement. Yes, I’m satisfied with the easements, we have good stewardship from The Nature Conservancy and they’ve been very easy to work with.

Q: Why are you involved in the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Conservancy?

A: It’s the kind of thing I’ve worked with and been interested in for most of my career. Looking at land…assessing it, looking at what kind of resources it has, what kind of habitat it has, and what can be done to enhance it or sustain it…is important and essential for land conservation and natural conditions.

So when the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Conservancy was created in late 2002 and early 2003 I was naturally interested in it. I was involved in the organization from the beginning and it was a struggle to get the land trust up and operating effectively. But the organization is functioning very well now, with lots of landowner interest, lots of projects and good success.

Q: The CFPOC is a little unusual because your land trust does a lot of joint conservation work with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Avista Conservation Program. Where do you see CFPOC’s work taking the organization in the future?

A: I see the organization doing more conservation easements by itself, without partnering with other agencies or entities. We’re continuing to work with state and federal agencies and other nonprofit partners, and it took us awhile to get started but I feel we are moving forward very successfully.

We were created, by a certain extent, because of Avista’s mitigation work. Avista needed to work cross state - in both Montana and Idaho - and CFPOC really plays a vital role in that respect. CFPOC operates in both Sanders County (Montana) and Pend Oreille County (Idaho) specifically to help facilitate Avista’s mitigation work. At this time about half our time and effort is spent on other land trust work.

And now that we’re successful, have created quite a few easements and we’re rolling along pretty well, people know about us, and are availing themselves of our services. And I think that’s going to continue to grow.

Q: As a CFPOC Lands Committee member you often represent the land trust on potential project scoping with landowners in the Bull River area of Montana. What kinds of things do you and landowners discuss as they consider placing conservation easements on their land?

A: The best way to answer that is to quickly run through our project review protocols.

We’re frequently contacted by people who express an interest in a conservation easement on their property, and the next step for us is that our executive director will visit with the people, explain who we are, what a land trust does, how easements work, plus take a cursory look at the land itself.

If the landowner and CFPOC are still interested after that, then our land committee goes out and meets with the landowner, and we walk the property to help determine if it meets the legal, resource and conservation requirements, and is a good candidate for being a conservation easement.

After that, if everyone’s still interested, we’ll talk to the property owner again, and we answer questions and discuss next steps. Again, it is the landowner that builds the conservation easement, and I like to explain it as a box. The more restrictions you the landowner add to the easement, the smaller the box. There’s a trade-off there, because more restrictions may lead to the potential of a larger tax deduction or a larger payment from the land trust or land trust partners. But I want to stress that we work with the landowner…the landowner makes the determining decisions. We as a land trust do not give tax advice and we do not give financial advice. Our business is conservation easements. Within this overall process is a property survey and an appraisal, documentation of the biological and physical features and those kinds of property delineations that are used to determine conservation benefits and values.

If everything goes smoothly the executive director will work with the landowner and then prepare and send a letter of intent from the land trust to the landowner.

The biggest barriers we face to conservation easements in our area are myths about conservation easements. People still think a conservation easement is something that’s foisted upon the landowner by the land trust, when in reality it is a landowner decision and manifestation of landowner private property rights. We see a lot of misinformation in Montana. People talk against easements, and most of it is untrue information.

Q: As a member of Audubon you’ve been involved in bird counts. Do you have a favorite bird species or favorite time of year to count birds?

A: Spring is the best time to count birds, of course. Since we’ve been retired we’ve been going to Arizona in the winter and begin our birding down there, and continue as we move east along the Gulf Coast and then north. In Arizona we enjoy the challenge of finding the Elegant Trogon, which can be difficult that time of year. But almost every year we do. The South Fork of the Bull River is a great migratory birding area.

Q: I found your and Irene’s name on the 2010 Montana Register of Big Trees for a red alder. What’s that all about?

A: (Laughs) It started with a friend of ours, who was working on a project involving the native plants of Montana. They were going to have a plant tour in the Bull River Valley, and in preparation he walked our property in advance of the tour, and he discovered this tree. He said, “This is an interesting tree, Cal. We better look into this a little more.” I said sure, and later my friend brought in another fellow, the president of the Montana Native Plant Society, and they came over, measured the tree, did some research and realized that yeah, the tree was the biggest red alder in Montana.

The tree is very vulnerable to beaver, and I keep checking it every year and think some beaver’s going to come along and use it for beaver food. But the tree’s still there. It’s an interesting part of our environment.

Q: You’ve worn several diverse natural resource and natural resource education hats for many years. Is there one project or program or activity you’re most proud of?

A: (Long pause) That is a difficult question. One reason I’m involved in so many different organizations is that I enjoy them and meet so many nice people volunteering their time and energies. Most of these organizations are made up of volunteers and volunteers are just really decent people, and my involvement in these organizations is as much people oriented as it is resource oriented.

But I think one of the most important things I worked on was the Montana Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act, commonly known as the “310 law” administered by conservation districts. I was actively involved in promoting the creation of the bill, worked on shepherding it through the labyrinthine channels of legislature, testified in committees, and after it passed I worked with it in two different Montana conservation districts. (A 310 Permit is required to work within a Montana stream or river area.)

Waterways are my favorite places. That includes wetlands. Riparian areas. Streams. Rivers. We’ve always lived where we could see a river. Water is in my blood. Protecting waterways is very important. Water and waterways are the lifeblood of the world. Waterways are always the most critical factor for a healthy environment and unless we take better care of our water, it will be the final limiting factor.

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