Working ranches play a huge role in the environmental health of Montana, especially along the wildlife-rich Rocky Mountain Front. However, the next generation of ranchers faces a big challenge—the ability to purchase and own their own ranchland. That’s why, when The Conservation Fund learned of Matt and Stacy Crabb—two Montana ranchers who desired to purchase and protect the ranch on which they worked, which also abuts critical open space and wildlife corridors—TCF stepped in to help.
Kaniksu Land Trust, based in Sandpoint, ID, working also in Montana’s Sanders County, has worked with partners and funders to create an 180-acre community forest named Pine Street Woods. Pine Street Woods is a tremendous educational, conservation and outdoor recreational community asset.
Bryant Jones always dreamed of owning a ranch. And he owns a spectacular one. His Willow Basin Ranch southwest of Dillon is exceptional for its high-quality wildlife habitat and its vast views of nothing but open country.
“Our nearest neighbors are fifteen miles away,” says Jones. “I love the solitude and rugged untouched spirit the area has. It’s a unique and undeveloped corner of the world. I want to keep it that way.”
Those are also qualities that convinced The Nature Conservancy in Montana to place a NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Agricultural Land Easement on about 4,000 acres of the Willow Basin Ranch.
The Willow Basin easement is one of two recently completed in the High Divide by The Nature Conservancy in Montana (TNC). Together they secure nearly 7,000 acres of superb wildlife habitat as well as the future of these family ranches. These latest two easements are part of nearly 40,000 acres that TNC has secured since the winter of 2018.
“The financial return (from the easement) was very attractive for someone just starting out in ranching with a young family,” says Jones. “It allows me the opportunity to continue ranching the land and preserves the wild untouched place that it is.”
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, based in Missoula and one of Montana’s premier wildlife conservation organizations, celebrated the closing of the Falls Creek project in 2019 with a major celebration at the project site near the Rocky Mountain Front, and in RMEF’s signature publication (The Bugle). The Falls Creek project not only opened up public access to the scenic falls itself, but to an additional of 26,000 acres of public land. RMEF negotiated a purchased agreement with a cooperative Barrett family, raised the funding to purchase the 442-acre property, and now the land is in public USFS ownership. Read the full – and very interesting – story here, as told by RMEF.
The State of Montana and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service have both made sage grouse habitat conservation top priorities, and so have The Montana Land Reliance and the Raths Ranch near Roundup.
Landowners Jeff and Bea Raths partnered with MLR, NRCS and the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program to place a conservation easement on 11,230 acres of their ranch to help maintain healthy sage grouse habitat and populations.
The NRCS featured the Raths and the conservation easement on the Montana NRCS website, and the Raths also received a 2019 conservation award from MLR. Montana is working hard to retain state authority of sage grouse, and projects like this will help the state achieve that goal.
Five Valleys Land Trust, with help from a bunch of partners, in 2019 completed its largest conservation easement ever on the 5,100-acre Graveley Ranch.
The Graveley Ranch is a place of windswept beauty. Located outside of Garrison, and visible from Interstate 90, the ranch rolls from the East Garnet Mountains into juniper-sagebrush steppes and high montane grasslands, down into conifers stands and tracks of riparian habitat along Brock Creek, Bear Gulch, Warm Springs Creek and the Clark Fork River. Tucked away into these hills, a spring bubbles into a large waterfall feature—a rarity among the coolies and sage of this region.
Prickly Pear Land Trust’s leadership and community cooperation produced Tenmile Creek Park, a fully accessible community park in Helena near Spring Meadow Resources, VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison and Spring Meadow Lake State Park. Prickly Pear is also leading the Sevenmile Creek Restoration project, a collaborative effort on a 358-acre parcel near Helena that will restore wetlands, riparian habitat and floodplain functions to diminish downstream sedimentation and flooding.