Joe Boyer never felt he had the right to sell his ranch west of Frenchtown. Generations before him had toiled there, and his father, buried on the land, had encouraged him to be a steward.
"You just take good care of it while you're here, Joe," said Boyer, recalling his father's words. "Just keep it up. Hold onto it. Do the best you can. Pass it on the same way."
With help from Five Valleys Land Trust, the Missoula County Open Lands Program, and the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, Boyer preserved this week some 750 acres of the working cattle ranch in a conservation easement. He said Thursday the deal is doing right by his ancestors.
"I'm sure yesterday when I signed the papers there with the Five Valleys (Land Trust), that all them people were smiling someplace," Boyer said.
Boyer donated nearly $2 million in value toward the purchase, according to the county Open Lands minutes. That's an estimated 74 percent of the total. The federal program contributed $295,000, and Missoula County put in some $245,000 of Open Space money. The Five Valleys Land Trust contributed $60,000 to the purchase and nearly $30,000 to transaction costs. It will hold the easement, ensuring no one subdivides or builds on the Boyer Ranch.
Boyer, who with his son raises a commercial red Angus cross there, said work began on the easement in 2003 or 2004. Since then, he's learned the land's deep conservation value for wildlife. As many as 100 elk spend the winter on the property and many birds find shelter there.
"We are thrilled to see this critical habitat protected," Paul Loehnen, president of Five Valleys Audubon, said in a news release from the county and Five Valleys.
The land offers large, undisturbed areas so birds can find food and reproduce. Golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, calliope hummingbirds, lazuli bunting, and peregrine falcons, a species of concern, can be found on the property.
The easement is one of nearly 120 the Five Valleys Land Trust holds, said executive director Grant Kier. Kier said this particular one was several years in the making because some of the land didn't meet funding qualifications, and finding a donor for a partial purchase is challenging.
"We're just thrilled the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Science) came together with the county to make this one possible," Kier said.
The Farm and Ranchland Protection Program is part of the NRCS, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The land is in the northern foothills looking over the Clark Fork River.
The Boyer family has operated the ranch for more than a century. According to the news release, it contains 500 acres of "high productive soils deemed ‘important' by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Science." It's an area Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recognizes "for being in greatest need of conservation in the state."
"The ranch's grasslands are the most threatened habitat type in the U.S.," the release says.
Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at 523-5262, keila.szpaller @missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.