One of the oldest working ranches in the history of the Missoula Valley is going up for sale, but the nearby river and state law will keep it from turning into a subdivision.
A large portion of the historic, 147-year-old Deschamps Ranch is for sale, as the owners are aging and finding it increasingly difficult to keep up. Charlie Deschamps and his wife Nancy recently decided to sell 279 acres of the ranch, which is located behind the Ranch Club development off Mullan Road west of town. It’s a haven for birds, rodents, deer and all kinds of other wildlife.
“I’m 72 years old now,” Charlie Deschamps said. “I’ve been working my ass off and running it, and I don’t have any help. I’m only one person and I just can’t keep up with it anymore.”
The acres for sale are the irrigated portions, he said, meaning they are technically in the floodplain of the Clark Fork River and can’t be developed.
“I keep telling the state and federal and local agencies that this doesn’t flood, but they don’t believe me so I gave up,” Deschamps said.
He produces about 1,000 tons of hay a year, and was out on Monday baling it as he has for many years in the summer. The ranch was first homesteaded in 1872 by his great-grandfather Gaspard Deschamps.
“You could grow anything out here,” he said. “Sugar beets, mint, peas. It’s really good ground. It would make a good hemp ranch if somebody wanted to buy several million dollars worth of equipment.”
One wetter portion of the ranch grows creeping tall fescue, which he says is loved by horses and their owners.
The property includes several artesian springs, including one large spring that pumps out 600 cubic feet per second year-round.
“Nobody knows where it comes from,” Deschamps explained. “But there’s springs all over the place. I have two artesian wells. It’s quite a beautiful place.”
They’re asking $3 million through local broker Jess Priske of Windermere Real Estate.
“It’s a high price,” Deschamps said. “A lotta people want to buy it and flip it. The reason we put the price up there was because we had some people lease for a year thinking they would buy it, and there again they wanted to flip it. That does not sit too well with Nancy and I. I tell people they are gonna have to put in 30 years on this land.”
In 2016, Deschamps and his wife explored placing the entire 545 acres of the ranch under a permanent conservation easement, which would guarantee it could only be used for agriculture going forward.
Deschamps said he had to back out because the agreement stipulated that he couldn’t move fences or dig ditches, and they would be limited in what they could grow.
“It was unworkable if you were running it as a farm or a ranch,” he said. “If you were running it as wide open space where deer and pheasants roam, it would have worked great. But our attorney told us we’d be unable to sell the ranch if we signed the agreement because an owner wouldn’t be able to do anything with it.”
They decided to just sell the irrigated portion and keep the dry land.
Other working ranches around Missoula have found a way to make conservation easements work. For example, Bart and Wendy Morris run the Oxbow Cattle Company on 168 acres of land south of Missoula, and they recently worked with the Five Valleys Land Trust to protect the land, water, wildlife habitat and soil forever through a conservation easement.
A recent analysis by the nonprofit research organization Headwaters Economics in Bozeman found that so far this year, Montana landowners have submitted more than $33.6 million in proposals for federal and state conservation funding programs, but only $21.2 million worth was approved. That money comes through publicly funded initiatives like the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Land Easement program.
That means there is a $12.4 million funding gap for voluntary conservation efforts.
“Right now, more than half the state is privately owned,” said Kelly Pohl of Headwaters Economics. “These lands are the source of essential water quality, wildlife habitat and soils critical to the state.”
Pohl said Montana is actually one of the few states where private conservation efforts happen relatively often.
“Montana does great with that (NRCS) program but there’s still a lot more interest in Montana than there is funding for,” she said. “There’s more demand here than other states.”