Water and the American Landowner Part 2 of 3

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.
Ranches for sale
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 (beartoothcap.com/recreation/field-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 www.beartoothcap.com

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 www.western-lands.com

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.

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