Luck and Hard Work: Conservation Momentum Builds in Threemile
The winter sky is icy-blue, and the morning sun is golden. Surrounded by open hay fields and Threemile Creek meandering just below, Frank Mogan softly pats his new German shepherd pup, Trapper, on the scruff with his rough hands, worn from a lifetime of hard work.
Trapper’s eyes slowly blink and glint in the morning sun. It’s quiet and peaceful. Frank breaks the silence and looks up. “My mom came over to take a look,” he said. “After she took one walk up along the creek, she fell in love with it. From that day, I knew this wasn’t going to be a money-making thing.”
But Frank Mogan didn’t always feel that way. Conservation didn’t seem like an option for him and his land early on. For landowners contemplating conservation, there is much to consider. Barriers like financing, debt, resources, and misconceptions can make it difficult for farmers and ranchers to pursue a conservation outcome on their land.
Hard Work Pays Off
Frank worked for a number of years to pay down his debt and position himself to conserve the farm. He accomplished a lot through honest, hard work. “I was lucky,” Mogan said. “I’ve always had all the work that I needed to make the payments, even during the recession. Sometimes it meant that I had to travel to places like Park City, but I always had the work.”
The good news is that with programs like the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Services) , critical funding is available to farmers and ranchers that make projects like Frank Mogan’s pencil out. Thanks to NRCS funding, an important wildlife corridor, ¾ of a mile of Threemile Creek riparian habitat, and productive hay ground was protected, totaling 161-acres of beautiful Bitterroot Valley ground.
This critical funding helps to leverage local Open Lands Bond dollars, making it possible for farmers like Frank to protect their land do right by those that came before them. As Frank puts it, “It makes me feel great,” Mogan said. “It wouldn’t give me satisfaction if this had been developed with million-dollar homes and turned into a city. This creek and the cottonwoods are important to wildlife. And now they are always going to be there.”
Momentum in Three Mile
Frank Mogan’s farm is adjacent to another conserved family farm. The 160-acre Gates family partnered with Bitter Root Land Trust the year prior to make sure their family land and legacy could be passed on to the next generation. Sam Gates’ daughter and granddaughter will play a big role in the future of the farm.
Now, because of NRCS funding, and because Montanans care about the future of farming and ranching, Frank’s land stays in working hands.
“I think it could have been worth millions in a heartbeat,” says Frank. “But I don’t think I would have been any happier than I am now.”
Photos by Eric Ian