Archive for July, 2013

Water and the American Landowner Part 2 of 3

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Water and the American Landowner

Examples of Forward Thinking in Water and Land Conservation

Part 2 of 3

The following article is the second in a three part series where Open Fences is highlighting innovative land and water conservation practices by landowners throughout the United States. In the previous article, we discussed how a rice farmer in south Texas had increased his yield and conserved 40% of his water usage by employing a technique called precision grading to his fields (Open Fences Vol. 3 No. 3). For this article, the subject ranch owner is an investment group out of Bozeman, Montana called Beartooth Capital and whose assets include a portfolio full of once degraded ranch properties that have now been restored to not only create improved ecological health and outstanding recreational opportunities, but also an exceptional and marketable financial value.

While Beartooth Capital’s business is based on a traditional value investment strategy, it is their dedication to the restoration, enhancement, and protection of ranch properties that ultimately provide for the increased value in the asset. Their acquisitions generally include ranch properties that have been poorly managed and degraded, but also hold tremendous potential for improvements to their ecological, aesthetic, and recreational qualities.
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The restoration and enhancement work they undertake includes the improvement of trout streams, wetland habitat creation for waterfowl, planting native vegetation for wildlife and aesthetic improvements. Once this restoration work has been completed, the ranches re-enter the market as true trophy recreational properties. “It is remarkable how different the properties are when we complete restoration and put new management practices in place. It is even more remarkable how much they continue to improve year after year,” noted co-founder and Principal Carl Palmer.

One example from their portfolio is the River Why Ranch near Bozeman, MT that they acquired in October of 2007. The southern portion of the ranch contained approximately two and a half miles of both sides of the North Fork of the Musselshell River and in its original condition, less than half of the river mileage offered any habitat for trout or fishing for anglers. Many years before, much of the river had been straightened and moved to the side of the river bottom to enhance hay production. This made it easier to hay the meadows but reduced the river’s length and its value as habitat for trout and big game. Search other Montana ranches for sale similar to the River Why Ranch.

In June 2008 they completed work to restore the river to its natural serpentine path and replanted hundreds of willows and cottonwoods in the riparian corridor. This work added nearly a mile of length to the river (as measured on the meander) and dramatically improved the habitat for trout.

Today, many species of wildlife including rainbow and brown trout, elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, grouse, Hungarian partridge and raptors have returned to the ranch in substantial numbers. Avid fishermen have described the fishing on the restored river as some of the best in the region. Some of the visitors to the River Why Ranch catch many fish above 18 inches in length, and 20 plus inch fish are not uncommon. The most exciting indicator of the health of the fishery might just be the return of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout to the system.

Another Montana ranch in the Beartooth Capital portfolio is Madison Spring Creek Ranch, which they acquired in the fall of 2010. This ranch borders the Madison River and also has over five miles of spring creek habitat on its interior.

Beartooth restored two spring creeks on ranch the including Darlington Ditch, which was a wide, slow-moving irrigation ditch. They secured the necessary permits before the deal closed and began work almost immediately. Four excavators reworked the ditch through the winter and when spring arrived, the restored creek emerged. What was once a wide shallow irrigation ditch is now over three miles of meandering, thriving spring creek. This newly minted water has great holes, cut banks and spawning riffles, plus excellent backwater habitat that serves as refuge for young fish while producing aquatic insects and attracting waterfowl.

They expect it to take two to three years to fill up with fish, but the process is well underway as the photo of the giant brown trout attests! Restoration has greatly improved habitat for fish, upland birds, waterfowl and white tail deer while reducing sedimentation and water temperatures and improving irrigation efficiency.

While measurable improvements in habitat and beauty can be seen as soon as a restoration project is complete, the system continues to increase in value as the restored landscape matures. Plants grow and further improve wildlife habitat, trout increase in size and number in restored rivers, waterfowl are attracted to newly created wetland habitat – all of which contribute to the increased value of the ranch property.  This upward trend is apparent in Beartooth’s visitor reports ( and annual monitoring of spawning activity. Fishing improves significantly right away, and gets better and better each year.

Spread throughout their ranch portfolio, Beartooth Capital has restored almost 37 miles of rivers and creeks, planted 6,000 native trees and shrubs, restored 13,000 acres of land, including 6,000 acres of habitat for globally rare or endangered species, and protected over 13,000 acres from future development.

The Beartooth Capital ranches are some of the most unique, ecologically healthy, and aesthetically beautiful ranches in the entire western Untied States. The fishing and hunting opportunities are endless and they have truly created multiple levels of value on what were once degraded ranch properties. These ranches are available for purchase for the buyer interested in owning a trophy recreational ranch in the Rocky Mountain West.

To learn more about Beartooth Capital, their properties and the projects described above, please contact Carl Palmer at 406-551-4769 or visit their website at

To learn more about how a restoration and enhancement project can improve the value of your land, please contact the author Tom Roberts, president of Western Lands – Ranch Restoration Services at 720-936-9973 or visit their website at

Tom Roberts is the author and is currently working on the third article in the Water and the American Land Owner series for Open Fences Magazine. His company designs, develops, and manages land enhancement programs for legacy and investment grade ranch properties throughout the United States.

Maybe this could be a call-out quote. From or restoration partner Scott Gillilan after surveying Darlington and Rey Creek in December 2012:

“I counted 83 redds in Rey Creek yesterday in 54 pool tailouts – every single spawnable piece of channel we built was utilized! In some places redds were superimposed over other redds, an indication that there were more fish than available spawning habitat. I have never seen a first year fish response this robust in any spring creek I have worked in. Over on Darlington I tallied a total of 44 redds, about half the available spawning habitat. This is a jump over last fall’s less formal survey which indicated about one-third utilization. On both creeks I came across some enormous sized redds indicative of very large fish.”

Search for mountain land for sale and fishing land for sale that is suitable for water conservation and habitat improvement projects on Open Fences.

Water and the American Landowner

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Examples of Forward Thinking in Water and Land Conservation

Part 1 of  3

As much of the country is still in the grips of one of the worst droughts on record and water becomes more expensive and scarce, the rural landowner often faces tough decisions on how to best use this valuable resource. In the next three issues of Open Fences Magazine, we will be exploring topics related to water and the American landowner. The following article is the first in this series where we will be discussing and presenting examples of how farm and ranch owners across the country are embracing alternative methods to utilize this resource and still find ways to conserve water, turn a profit, and enhance the quality of their land. In this first article, we will show how one seed rice farm southwest of Houston, Texas has used precision grading to reduce their water usage by up to 40% while still increasing yield and improving the wildlife habitat on the land.

According to the USDA, agriculture is a major user of ground and surface water in the United States that accounts for nearly 80% of the nation’s consumptive water use and over 90% in many of the western states. While there is no question that the food and other products that are sent to market have made this country what it is today, inefficiencies in the system become more apparent when drought affects supply or when other users, such as municipalities, are competing for the resource. The farmers and ranchers who recognize ways to conserve their water use without hurting their operations will be the ones leading us into the future of best management practices for the land.

One of these farmers is Jacko Garrett of Garrett Farms in Danbury, Texas who owns a 3,046-acre farm and ranch where he grows seed rice, live oak trees seedlings, and raises F1 (Brahman x Angus) females and bulls. Approximately 1,500 acres is currently used for the seed rice operation among this lush green, fertile, and well watered landscape.

Mr. Garrett’s parents bought the land back in 1936 for $10 per acre and developed a successful rice farm and Brahman cattle ranch. Today, Garrett Farms is still located on a portion of the original land and Jacko and his wife Nancy have continued the tradition of success. One of the main reasons for this is their dedication, hard work, and willingness to invest in the future.

Jacko realized that even though the rice farm had been successful for all these years, it still required a great deal of water resources and labor to raise this crop. He also understood that water was becoming a precious resource that continued to increase in price and importance to other sectors of society. He felt that it was his responsibility as a farmer and landowner to find ways to minimize these inefficiencies, but still increase his profitability.

While exploring options to improve his bottom line, Jacko learned about the technique called precision grading that could not only help him significantly reduce his water requirements, but also the amount of hired labor to constantly watch and adjust the many levies needed to flood the rice fields.

The technique involves mapping the fields with highly accurate Global Positioning System (GPS) and laser survey equipment, which then displays a contour map on the computer. The engineers can display different options of how the fields should drain and where the levies would now be located prior to moving the first bucket of soil. Jacko was able to consider other land use options, such as where new access roads would be located as well as an airstrip.

The grading had to be done with highly trained equipment operators since the fall of the land had to be contoured to an accuracy of less than 1/8 of an inch. Graders with dump and ejector buckets were used to scrape the ground and move the soil around so the water would drain properly. Jacko estimates that his water usage is now 40% less than what it was prior to the precision grading on his fields and has also increased his yield by approximately 15% as well. With nearly 1,900 acres of his ranch in seed rice and row crop production of which 855 acres has been precision graded, this equates to a great deal of water and cost savings.

As flat as the land seemed prior to the precision grading, there were still small undulations in the ground plane that resulted in variations in depth of the water that had to be controlled by numerous levies. For example, on one 20-acre piece of this land there were approximately 20 levies, now there are only two. It would take a team of three workers approximately a full day to manage the levies on one of the 450-acre parcels of fields. Now it takes one worker about half a day to accomplish the same task.

Another example of Garrett Farms’ commitment to water conservation is their plan to construct a water storage reservoir on one of the lower areas of the farm that is intended to capture the drainage water from the fields and additional runoff from rains. The fields must be drained about two weeks prior to harvesting the rice crop. Currently, the fields are drained and the water returns to the nearby river. Jacko would like to capture this drainage water in the reservoir and recycle it back to the fields with a series of pipes and pumps. After the first cut of rice, the fields can be re-flooded and the second crop will be ready for harvest in approximately another 75 days. Since water prices from the local water authority have more than doubled in the past year, the recycling of this water will be another improvement to reduce his water use and costs.

Although this was not an inexpensive undertaking, these efforts have paid off and according to the IRS, if you are in the business of farming, you can choose to currently deduct your expenses for soil or water conservation or for the prevention of erosion of land used in farming.

Jacko Garrett leads by example with a strong commitment to water conservation and land stewardship on this beautiful land that has been in his family since 1936. This is a wonderful example of how even a farmer/rancher from an older generation is taking on the responsibility to understand this new generation’s water issues and has invested in the technology to conserve water while still operating a successful farm and ranch business.

Jacko also said that one of the added benefits to this type of land and water use is that when the fields are flooded there are more teal and other ducks than you could possibly imagine. Certainly a sight worth seeing.

Garrett Farms has been put on the market and additional information regarding the land and operations can be obtained from agent Minor Taylor with Property Connections in Bay City, TX. Phone 979-245-6055. This farm is offered for $7,966,374.

Tom Roberts is the author and will be working on the second and third articles in the Water and the American Land Owner series for Open Fences Magazine. He is the president of Western Lands – Ranch Restoration Services located in Parker, Colorado. His company designs, develops, and manages land enhancement programs for legacy and investment grade ranch projects throughout the United States. Please contact him at with any questions, comments, or ideas.

Search Ranches for sale to find that perfect ranch for water preservation and habitat improvement.