The Only Home I've Ever Known

Danny Roy pulls up to his family’s farmhouse driving a 1936 Chevy – the same pickup his uncle drove from the ranch to attend Victor School in the 1940’s. It’s a small glimpse into the window of what life looked like on the ranch when Danny’s family started what would become a longstanding legacy in Bitterroot agriculture, and what is being honored today by Danny through his decision to conserve the land in perpetuity.

The original 1890’s farmhouse, a herd of cattle quietly grazing in the forefront of the stunning Bitterroot Mountains, and the open land that surrounds it all are what make this place home to Danny – just as it was for his grandmother, father, mother, aunts, and uncles that worked the land before him. It’s the place where thousands of calves have taken their first steps in the snowy spring, where endless tons of hay have been baled in the summer heat, and where wildlife find ample habitat in the meadows and timber year-round.

And, thanks to the vision of the Roy family and our community’s support for local conservation, it’s the place that will be able to continue a longstanding legacy of Bitterroot agriculture for many years to come.

 

“This ranch means the world to me. It’s the only home I’ve ever known,” says Danny. “The dream of my father, Ivan Roy, was always to keep the entire property preserved for farming and wildlife. I’ve always vowed to honor that dream.”

Conserved in partnership with BRLT in January, the nearly 80-year-old family ranch is primarily used for agricultural production, including hay and pasture for cattle. The property’s diverse landscape of timber, wetlands, and open meadows provide exceptional habitat for wildlife, including elk, white tailed deer, sandhill crane, moose, and turkeys. Located in close proximity to several nearby conservation easements, both completed and in-progress in partnership with BRLT, the open space provides a corridor for wildlife to travel safely from the cover of the Bitterroot National Forest to neighboring ranchlands below. Danny says,

“I love this property for its history and the beauty. Many people stop along the side of my meadow to take pictures of the view of Bear Creek Canyon to the west. I can’t imagine this property ever being split or subdivided.”

The Roy Ranch conservation easement was funded in part by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), as well as the Ravalli County Open Lands Program, a local conservation funding program first approved in 2006, that was renewed with a 71% passage rate by Ravalli County voters in November 2022. The Open Lands Program provides funding to support landowners who wish to voluntarily conserve their land.

Thanks to the vision of the Roy family, the Bitterroot Valley community, and supporting programs like the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program and the Ravalli County Open Lands Program, 176-acres of critical Bitterroot Valley agricultural land and wildlife habitat will remain forever intact.

To learn more about the Ravalli County Open Lands Program, visit the Ravalli County website at Ravalli.us/189/Open-Lands-Bond-Program. To learn more about the NRCS RCPP program, visit nrcs.usda.gov/programs-initiatives/rcpp-regional-conservation-partnership-program


Partnerships for Perpetuity

A Bitterroot family who have been ranching in the valley since the 1800’s have conserved their 540-acre ranch in Victor to offer permanent public access to the community, thanks in part to funding received from the Ravalli County Open Lands Program and the collaboration between several local partners in conservation. 

The Hackett family has a history of being generous with access to their property, located approximately 3.5 miles west of Victor. They have provided the public with a diversity of recreational opportunities, including hunting and fishing access on private lands and recreational access to adjacent National Forest lands including the trail to the scenic Sweathouse Falls, one of the most popular day hiking destinations in the Bitterroot National Forest.  

They were among the first in the state to sign up for FWP’s block management program over 25 years ago, with both elk and turkey hunters taking advantage of access to the private land through the program. Their vision to permanently allow this access was officially completed in November 2022 in partnership with BRLT, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Bitterroot National Forest, Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond Program.

“Our family wanted to preserve the property for future generations but needed to receive some compensation for retirement,” says landowner Scott Hackett. “The conservation easement was able to accomplish both goals.”

(Photo from L to R: Diane, Scott, Prescott, and Molly Hackett)

The new conservation easement on the property maintains the family’s history of providing hunter access, ensures permanent protection of the rolling foothills that serve as winter range habitat for elk and mule deer, and the property’s shared boundary with the Bitterroot National Forest ensures that the wildlife that currently benefit from this habitat will continue to use this property long into the future. The property also includes three-quarters of a mile of Sweathouse Creek and a small stretch of Gash Creek, both of which are important westside tributaries of the Bitterroot River and serve as habitat for native westslope cutthroat trout. 

Landowner Prescott Hacket, Scott’s father, says, “I had an airline pilot come up here and said he wanted just enough to build a house. And I said, yeah, that’s just the beginning of a subdivision, which I really don’t want up here. I just didn’t want it all broken up. I know somebody’s got to have a place to live, but dog-gone-it, I didn’t figure they had to live up here. I’d just hate to see this place all broke up into little chunks.”

Thanks to the vision and generosity of the Hackett family, the support from our partner agencies in conservation, and for our community’s dedication to local conservation and recent renewal of the Open Lands Bond, this gift of open space and access to the iconic mountain waterfall will continue to be enjoyed by future generations who explore the landscape, far into the future. 

Directions to Hackett Ranch conservation easement: 

  • From Stevensville: Travel south on Highway 93 for 5.6 miles and turn west (right) onto Bell Crossing W. Go 0.5 miles and turn south (left) onto Meridian. Travel 1 mile and turn west (right) at Sweathouse Creek Rd. Follow for approximately 4 miles. Veer left on dirt road that passes over the creek. Park along road next to gate with FWP and Open Lands Program signs. Please be sure to close gate behind you upon entry to keep cattle in pasture.
  • From Hamilton: Head north on Highway 93 for 11 miles. Turn left at Victor onto 5th Avenue. Travel 1 mile. Turn right onto Pleasant View Drive. Travel 0.5 miles. Turn left onto Sweathouse Creek Rd. Follow for approximately 2.8 miles. Veer left on dirt road that passes over the creek. Park along road next to gate with FWP and Open Lands Program signs. Please be sure to close gate behind you upon entry to keep cattle in pasture.


Lifeline Produce

When landowners Luci Brieger and Steve Elliott started farming in the Bitterroot in 1979, they knew right off the bat that they wanted to do as little harm on the land as possible to grow healthy, organic, produce to feed their community.

Nearly 40 years later, the certified-organic farmland that serves as Lifeline Produce can continue to produce locally grown food for years to come through their small-scale operation, thanks to conservation.

The farm's newly conserved 78 acres spans over two properties – one along the Eastside Highway in Stevensville that serves as the farm’s main crop production area, and the farm’s headquarters located off McVey Road in Victor that includes a home, hoop house, green houses, and land used for crop production and rotational livestock grazing.

Lifeline Produce grows all their own hay and feed to support enough cattle and sheep to provide enough manure to make the compost that builds soil for crops. The farm grows potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, pumpkins, lettuce, cabbage, chard, zucchini, and onions, among other things. They also produce their own biodiesel fuel to operate farm vehicles, using waste cooking oil from Victor’s Hamilton House and the Mustard Seed Restaurant in Missoula. Most of their electricity is solar.

“This is our life’s work. Over the years we have been able to buy these 78 acres and rebuild healthy soils. We raised our three children here, and our family agreed we wanted this ground to be available for organic agriculture for generations to come,” says Luci. “We knew that a conservation easement would probably be a useful tool to make that happen.”

Both properties are in close proximity to other conservation easements completed by local families in partnership with the Bitter Root Land Trust, which will remain forever open and available for agriculture, wildlife and riparian habitat, as well as scenic views from highly traveled roads.

In addition to organic crop production, the farm also supports an apprenticeship program in which they have trained two farmers every year for many years.

“We need more farmers, and somebody needs to train them. We wanted future farmers to have the opportunity to operate this farm someday and knew that meant we’d need to permanently lower the land’s value by removing development rights through the conservation easement. Because if those farmers had to pay development prices, this land would certainly not stay in ag production. “ - Luci & Steve

Community members can purchase Lifeline Produce at the Good Food Store and Orange Street Food Farm in Missoula and Super One in Stevensville. The Western Montana Growers Co-Op also purchases and distributes Lifeline’s produce, in addition to goods offered by many other local growers, to grocery stores, restaurants, and institutions across Montana and into Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Thank you to Luci and Steve and their family for your vision for conservation, and continuing to fill our community's bellies with healthy, happy, Bitterroot-grown food!


Farmland, Wildlife & A Big Yellow Taxi

What do productive farmland, open space for wildlife, and a big yellow taxi have in common?

For landowners Barry and Paulie Mills, they were all a part of the equation that inspired their decision to work with BRLT to conserve their 71 acres of farmland on Sunset Bench in Stevensville.

In close proximity to many other BRLT-held conservation easements in the area (including Triple D Ranch, Rory R Ranch, Kerslake Ranch, and Haywire Flats), Mills Farm is primarily used for alfalfa and grass hay production and irrigated pasture for cattle and horses.

Paulie's grandparents, Daizy and Michael Thoft, owned the Bar 24 Ranch across the road, known today as previously mentioned Triple D Ranch. Honoring her family's legacy in agriculture was important to Paulie and Barry, and they were excited to learn that a portion of the family ranch was conserved in perpetuity when the Triple D conservation easement was completed in partnership with BRLT last year.

“This land makes you really feel something, and every day it just reaffirms for us that protecting it was the right thing to do. We have always loved the Joni Mitchell song, 'Big Yellow Taxi' with lyrics that question paving paradise and putting up a parking lot, and not knowing what you've got 'til it's gone..... It’s such an important thing for people to connect with the outdoors and realize a sense of place. And if we don’t protect the settings that provide that, what will replace that sense of place if we sacrifice the very thing that draws people here?” - Barry and Paulie Mills

While the Sunset Bench area has seen increasing development pressure over the last few decades, BRLT has worked with dozens of families to conserve thousands of additional acres within a couple miles of the farm. The Mills Farm is in close proximity to many agricultural conservation easements, including the previously mentioned contiguous Triple D Ranch (420 acres), Rory R Ranch (1,260 acres), Griffin Ranch (202 acres), Kerslake Ranch (93 acres), and Peckinpaugh’s Lazy Burnt Fork Ranch (333 acres).

Thanks to your support, and critical funding received from the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond and the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Barry and Paulie's vision has been carried out to forever protect this beautiful Bitterroot Valley landscape for future generations.

 


A Different Look at the Land

Lifelong Bitterroot Valley farmers and ranchers Bob and Laurie Sutherlin have spent decades establishing and growing Sutherlin Farms with a goal in mind: to keep their land in agriculture for generations to come. Bob was only a teenager when he first started buying cows, and until they could afford to buy their own, he and his wife Laurie rented ground to run their cattle and farm.

“When you grow up not having ground and have to put it together yourself, you take a different look at that land,” says Bob. “It’s something you worked your whole life for and wanted.”

Resting on some of the richest soil in all of Ravalli County, Sutherlin Farms is primarily used for irrigated crop production, including hay, alfalfa, grain and silage corn, all of which are grown to feed their cow/calf operation and herd of Red Angus that has seed stock all over the world.

“It takes good productive ground to raise enough hay to winter these cattle. You can’t just let it go away,” says Bob.

Nearly all of the farm – 99% to be exact – is identified by NRCS as “agriculturally important soil.” In addition to prime farmland, the property’s open space provides valuable wildlife habitat as well as areas for wildlife movement, especially for locally important species such as elk, deer, sandhill crane, bald and golden eagle, and other raptors.

With several other conservation easements close by and directly adjacent to the farm, the newly conserved Sutherlin Farms has added to the area’s preservation of open space near the Bitterroot River.

“Bob and Laurie making the decision to keep this ranch intact gives their grandkids the opportunity to carry on the family’s tradition of ranching when they grow up if they choose,” says daughter-in-law Lacey Sutherlin. “As parents, knowing they have that option to the contribute to the legacy in agriculture is really special for us.”

Thanks to the decision to conserve their farm, the Sutherlin family has guaranteed the preservation and enhancement of one more section of open space in western Montana – forever.


Honoring the ‘Last Best Place’

Nestled between the foothills of the Bitterroot Valley’s Sapphire Mountain Range and the Bitterroot River sits 820 acres of family property made up of pristine wildlife habitat, rangeland and scenic landscape that will remain forever preserved, thanks to the shared vision of a brother and sister who were ready to do their part in leaving a legacy for generations to come.

Once a part of the historic community of Rosemont, the property was officially conserved in perpetuity in February 2023 by co-landowners and siblings Charlie and Sarah DeVoe. The family property was originally purchased in the 1970’s by their father as an investment opportunity, who had the intent to install wells and power across the land, which had been split up into 20-acre tracts to prepare for subdivision and building of homes. The price may have been right for that outcome, but Charlie always had a feeling the land should stay undeveloped.

“You can always make more money,” says Charlie. “But you can’t make more land.”

When their father passed away, and the fate of the property was left to Charlie and Sarah, they both agreed that the land they had been coming to for years to camp, hunt and spend time together needed to be protected.

“To our family, this property is the prettiest place on earth,” says Charlie. “When you’re sitting up here in the foothills of the Sapphires and looking out across the valley… there’s truly nothing else like it. I don’t know a time in the last 40 years that we haven’t seen wildlife of one kind or another when coming up here. It would be horrible for the wildlife habitat and unique nature of this property should it ever be split up and sold off separately. Instead of selling off the individual parcels and leaving a big part of our family’s experiences and memories behind, our family decided to put the remaining 820-acres into conservation, together as one property.”

A diverse landscape that showcases many favorite attributes of the Bitterroot Valley, the property features over 150 different types of wildflowers, sagebrush shrublands and montane grasslands, forest, natural springs, streams and riparian habitat – all of which support local wildlife such as elk, black bear, mountain lion, mule deer, fox, owls, Brewer’s sparrow, and sage thrasher, as well as the ever-elusive wolverine and badger. Charlie remembers a day when he and his wife Alana counted over 300 head of elk spread out across the entire front of the property, the herd spanning over a mile across the land.

“There’s not another place I’ve found with more diverse amount of wildlife in such a small area,” says Charlie. “The animals are here year-round, and they’ve been here much longer than we have. You start to take that away, and they’re going to run out of places to live.”

In addition to pristine wildlife habitat, the conservation of the open space grasslands provides opportunities for local ranchers to continue cattle grazing practices by leasing some of the ground, ensuring that these lands will remain available for agricultural use in perpetuity.

“For the past 25 years, we’ve leased pasture out for grazing every year to local ranchers. It helps us, because it keeps the fire hazard down and benefits the health of the land, while offering a place for ranchers to run their cattle during a time when land is getting harder and harder to find around the Bitterroot. It’s a ‘win-win,” says Charlie.

As an added conservation value, all that the cattle and wildlife must navigate around is a hand-built dry cabin – the only standing structure on the property.

“Our daughter was living in Honduras as an exchange student in the early 2000’s with limited ability to communicate back home to Montana, when there was a coup in the country. That time was a little nerve racking for dad,” Charlie laughs warily. “I needed a project to keep my mind occupied, and that’s when I built the cabin.”

With a growing family that now includes grandkids, Charlie and Sarah are overjoyed with the land’s conservation outcome.

Landowner Charlie DeVoe

“We did this so that our family and others after us will have the opportunity to continue to enjoy the beautiful and irreplaceable views, flowers, plants, trees and wildlife on this special property. The wildlife will still have room to roam, no matter what. And above all else, anyone who has spent time here in the Bitterroot knows, this is truly the ‘last best place.’ And, if we don’t try to maintain open space, it will be gone forever.”

Fortunately, not only for the DeVoe family, but for the many Bitterroot community members and visitors who value the area’s legendary open space, wildlife and agriculture, another portion of the ‘last best place’ will remain protected forever.

“I feel strongly that the only thing that will be able to preserve more land like ours are supporters and programs like the Heart of the Rockies, NRCS and organizations like the Bitter Root Land Trust,” says Charlie. “Without them, and similar conservation efforts, this type of land will be changed forever. I am forever grateful for the Land Trust for helping to make this happen for us.”


A Sanctuary of Open Space

Three miles south of Hamilton lies the winding Skalkaho Highway that takes many scenic travelers through an isolated section of the Sapphire Mountains each year, a 23,000-acre remote area that is densely forested and abundant with wildlife.

The road was constructed in the early 1920’s to link the mining areas of Anaconda and Phillipsburg with the agricultural communities of the Bitterroot Valley. Today, and for many more tomorrows to come, all that travel along this highway will pass by a section of wildlife habitat that will never be changed, developed, or disrupted, thanks to one landowner’s vision.

The 75-acre “Sough” property was officially conserved by BRLT in partnership with landowner Suzanna McDougal in December 2022, a decision that had been more than 30 years in the making.

“I’ve always wanted to conserve this property since I purchased it in the early 1990’s,” says Suzanna. “I fondly remember walking the land with BRLT founders Fletch Newby and Steve Powell back then, talking about the possibilities of conserving it. They pointed out many unique and historical aspects of significance throughout the property, including indications where the lapping waves of Glacial Lake Missoula had made marks on the big rocky outcroppings. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering when the right time would be for me to conserve it. I’ve realized that I’m not getting any younger, and this past year reignited the spark and I made the jump to finally get it done.”

Unique in many ways indeed, the property has qualities that differ from the irrigated farms and ranchlands that are so distinct in other parts of the Bitterroot Valley. It consists of mostly dry land, yet there is a highline ditch that flows on the south border which has created a riparian habitat on the dry land. The riparian area and its aspen, cottonwood and birch trees support various animal visitors year-round, including a wide variety of bird species, bobcats, mountain lions, and mule deer, and occasional visits from the Skalkaho herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.

“As sheep populations across Montana continue to struggle with disease and habitat loss, protecting sheep winter range is crucial to ensuring their continued existence on the landscape,” says Rebecca Mowry, wildlife biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. “As the demand for housing in the Bitterroot Valley continues to grow, conservation easements are becoming more and more vital to preserve habitat for the wildlife Montanans so treasure. The Sough conservation easement represents this perfectly, with its proximity to Hamilton, its attractiveness as a building site, and its importance to a small but very visible bighorn sheep herd.”

The valuable habitat for the wildlife who share the property with Suzanna was one of the driving forces behind her decision to place it into conservation. She tells the story of a Bighorn ewe giving birth to a lamb on top of what she affectionately refers to as “Dragon Rock.”

“From a distance, I was able to watch this baby lamb come into existence; from the day it was born and over the next few weeks as she learned from her mother to jump from boulder to boulder. Another Ewe came along with another lamb, and the two babies would play up on the rocks. They seemed to both be excited to have a playmate.”

This story and many others like it make it no wonder why one would feel a strong connection with this land and care deeply about its fate. Because of this, Suzanna shares that she has done her very best throughout the years to keep her “human footprint” as minimal as possible, by participating in the State of Montana’s Forest Stewardship Program and planting hundreds of native flowers and trees throughout the property, including ponderosa pines that have grown to more than 25 feet tall. The cheatgrass that had once invaded almost 4 acres has been removed, with fast spreading fescue grass planted in its place.

“It was a positive experience, working with BRLT to get this done,” Suzanna reflects. “The staff coming out here, sharing their knowledge with each other and with me... It makes me wish that more people in the Bitterroot would conserve more of this place. It took me awhile to get to this place of finally being ready to conserve it, but now that I have, it feels good.”

Many thanks to the decision of Suzanna for finalizing her 30-year dream to protect this special piece of the Bitterroot for years to come.


Something to Work For

As soon as fifth generation Bitterroot rancher Drew Lewis was old enough to move out on his own from his family’s commercial dairy farm in the Bitterroot Valley, he was ready to pursue a new avenue that he was certain wouldn’t include farming.

“Everything is easy compared to dairy farming,” says Drew with a laugh. “When I graduated and started my own fencing operation, I moved entirely away from ranching. I was ready for something new.”

It wasn’t until he met his wife Kaci, also a Bitterroot Valley native, and started a family of their own that they realized they missed the ranching lifestyle after all, with a shared dream of having their own cattle and piece of property someday. They started to explore ways that would make it possible for them to start their own operation.

But, it wouldn’t be that easy. Land values in the Bitterroot Valley have skyrocketed over the past few years just as they have all over Montana, making it nearly impossible for young people to enter the ranching industry on their own.

“Growing up here, you take all the open space and this way of life for granted until you realize that opportunity might not be available for you anymore,” says Drew. “The ag world seems to be vanishing, and we were determined to find a way to be able to afford something of our own, especially now that the valley has such high land prices.”

After learning more about the conservation easement tool through extensive meetings with the Bitter Root Land Trust, Drew and Kaci made the decision to purchase a 420-acre ranch in the Burnt Fork area of Stevensville with the goal to conserve the property always at the forefront.

Thanks to critical funding received from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Land Easement Program and the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond, the Lewis family officially conserved Triple D Ranch in partnership with the Bitter Root Land Trust in the summer of 2022.

Named Triple D Ranch in honor of their three young children – Dash, Diem and Denali – the land consists mostly of hay and pasture ground that supports the family’s cattle operation, Skyline Angus. The ranch also serves as a wildlife corridor to a variety of different native species including elk and deer, adding to more than 7,000 protected acres of family farms, ranches and wildlife habitat in the Burnt Fork neighborhood alone, many of which were also made possible thanks to the funding support of the Agricultural Land Easement Program.

“We held true to our vision to conserve the ranch over the past few years, during a time when land values are incredibly high and we could have made more money selling the land to someone else,” says Drew. “Our motivation to work with the Bitter Root Land Trust to protect this place was in large part for the benefit of our kids. They all have their own cows that they are responsible for, help with chores and have come to love the ranching lifestyle. We want this to still be here for them and our grandkids someday.”

Thanks to the vision of the Lewis family, and critical support from funding partners like the NRCS, 420 acres of prime farmland is now protected forever.


Back to the Beginning: Conserving an Enchanting Bitterroot Valley Ranch

The Bitterroot Valley draws people from all walks of life – each with their own backstory, passions, and unique reasons for calling this special place, “home.” But one commonality is prevalent across community members: a love for open space.

Gary Beadle was born and raised on a farm in the Midwest. He grew up learning to love everything that the farming lifestyle had to offer. When it came time for him to head out on his own, he landed in an urban area, with a career that placed him on the inside of an office – a complete opposite landscape from what he had always known.

“When I first met my husband Gary, he couldn’t have been doing anything different than how he grew up – always dressed for work in white shirt and trousers,” says Robin Beadle. “But I knew he was a farmer from his past and loved hearing the stories he would tell me from life on the farm. I was enchanted by it – and that my husband had that value system of understanding the importance of agriculture, growing your own food and hard work. We felt we needed to move elsewhere to get back to those roots.”

After feeling an instant connection to the Bitterroot during a trip in the early 2000’s, they decided to jump in with both feet and were able to purchase acreage in Victor, which they dubbed “Rory R Ranch.” During their early years in the valley, Gary and Robin quickly observed how the valley was changing. It concerned them.

“Coming from a large urban area like Chicago, over those 40 years, I saw such an explosion of suburban development with people purchasing all of this valuable agricultural land in Illinois and seeing it be divided into subdivision after subdivision,” says Gary. “I knew if there was going to be this heightened level of development in Ravalli County, that preserving the ag land would be critical.”

When a large ranch went up for sale west of Stevensville in the Burnt Fork neighborhood, the Beadles jumped at the opportunity to protect it from subdivision. Formerly known as the Mytty Ranch, they purchased a significant portion of it and instantly started to discuss the next steps, which would be to preserve the property for the future of agriculture in the valley.

“As soon as we bought the ranch in Stevensville, things really started to blow up here with land prices skyrocketing and more and more people moving to the valley,” says Robin. “The timing was perfect when we started talking with the Bitter Root Land Trust about the easement. It was almost meant to be.”

The Beadles were both very familiar with the concept of land conservation and the conservation easement tool when they began meeting with the land trust. It was something that they had been interested in doing from the very beginning with their Victor ranch, and what drove them to ultimately purchase the Stevensville ranch. After conservation staff visited the property, there was no doubt that this project would be a perfect model for a conservation easement.

The property is comprised of two large tracts of land totaling 1,260 acres of open-space rangeland that includes sagebrush shrublands and montane grasslands, along with miles of ephemeral creeks and riparian habitat, all of which collectively support locally important species such as elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and fox, and “Species of Concern” such as Brewer’s sparrow, evening grosbeak and sage thrasher. The shrublands and grasslands provide grazing opportunities for cattle, as well as scenic views of natural open space that can be enjoyed by the public traveling along a number of significant valley roadways.

“I know personally when I go to the larger grassland parcel, I can go up there and just get lost,” says Gary. “You look around, and it’s just amazing to look to the west and to the north, the south and the east, and all you see are mountains, grassland, and wildlife. It’s as if you’re in the middle of heaven. No structures, no people – just wildlife and natural beauty.”

And now, thanks to critical funding support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Land Easement Program and the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond, 1,260 acres of the ranch are conserved.

“We’re just so happy that we were able to put this property in an easement and preserve it for future generations,” says Robin. “People move here with different intentions. This is a special place, and if we don’t reasonably protect it, it will be gone. We just want to keep it this way the best we can, forever.”


The Mielke's

Honoring the Past for the Benefit of Tomorrow

When Carola (Carol) Woolsey-Mielke’s parents Vernon and Maria Woolsey first started leasing the ground that is known today as Haywire Flats in 1948, the property consisted largely of sagebrush. They started working to clear off the bench area and, after many late nights and weekends with the help of their family, transformed the land into productive farmland which would eventually come to produce wheat, barley, and oats. The Woolsey family purchased the ranch in 1959 and it has remained in Carol’s family ever since, owned today by she and her husband Ed.

After Vernon passed away in 2006, the property was not used for agriculture again until several years later when Carol and Ed’s son-in-law Lance Brown expressed interest in farming the land. Unfortunately, with the shape it was in, it wouldn’t be that easy.

Since the ground was last farmed, the sagebrush had grown back and inched its way back onto the property. Bull thistles and other aggressive weeds had taken over. Fences were in bad condition, with a majority having to be replaced. It took time and energy to revive the ground, but eventually the family was able to get the job done.

“In respect for all the hard work my mom and dad did on this land, we figured out a plan to reclaim the bench property and were able to turn it back into usable land again,” says Carol. “Just as my dad would have wanted.”

After turning the soil, piling, and burning piles of sage, wheat was able to be planted once again. Sine that time, the property has been continually sprayed for weeds, and the sagebrush burned to keep it from infringing back onto the property. The property carries up to 40 pairs of cows and calves each year during the summer, leaving ample grazing for elk and mule deer and open space for other wildlife that frequent the property in the winter months.

“This piece of beautiful Bitterroot Land has always been a part of my life. My mother and father instilled in me the love of the land – especially the Sapphire Mountains. My mom was a Holocaust survivor, and she was very much into the land and that it was your responsibility to take care of it.”

And, by making the decision to place the 258-acre Haywire Flats into a conservation easement, the Mielkes have taken care of the property and its future, forever. The Haywire Flats property was the last piece of the puzzle that created a 7,150-acre contiguous link of open land preserved by numerous landowners in the Burnt Fork neighborhood for wildlife, agriculture and future generations that begins on the foothills of the Sapphire Mountains and runs to Logan Lane on the outskirts of Stevensville.

The Mielke's

“When I was growing up, my dad and I would go ride the fences and check cows. We always ate our lunch in the shade of a huge old juniper tree, with Slocum Creek running close by. My dad would tell stories of growing up in the Bitterroot, and we would talk about life in general.”

In 2011, Carol and Ed hand-built a small dry cabin in that exact spot where they gather with their kids and grandkids often.

“It always seems that Dad is very close when I spend time there.”

Thanks to the decision of Carol and Ed and their family to honor past generations by preserving this beautiful piece of the Bitterroot, future generations will continue to benefit from this open space.