Patience is a virtue, they say. This past June, perseverance paid off when the Graveley family and Five Valleys finalized our biggest conservation easement project to date: The Graveley Ranch project.
The Graveley Ranch is a place of windswept beauty. Located outside of Garrison, and visible from Interstate 90, the ranch rolls from the East Garnet Mountains into juniper-sagebrush steppes and high montane grasslands, down into conifers stands and tracks of riparian habitat along Brock Creek, Bear Gulch, Warm Springs Creek and the Clark Fork River. Tucked away into these hills, a spring bubbles into a large waterfall feature—a rarity among the coolies and sage of this region.
Nearly a decade ago, brothers Shane and Sandy Graveley contacted Five Valleys about placing a conservation easement their 5,100-acre cattle ranch. Their vision was big: use the proceeds from the sale of a conservation easement to purchase a neighboring 3,100-acre ranch, and then protect that as well. More than once, the adjacent ranch came up for sale, but the chips just didn’t fall right. Then, last year, it was placed on the market again. This time, with the help of The Conservation Fund, who purchased it and held it while Five Valleys and the Graveleys worked out the details of the easements and funding, the long-held dream was made possible, and over 8,200 acres of working lands and wildlife habitat was protected in perpetuity.
The Graveley brothers raise cattle on their land, which has been in their family for four generations. The variety of habitat types serve more than just happy cows, though. The land also provides for elk, mule deer, antelope, black and grizzly bear, and several Montana Species of Concern, including three species of bat, boreal owl, long-billed curlew, and westslope cutthroat trout. The project also protects over three miles of Warm Spring Creek, an important recruitment fishery for the Clark Fork River. The ranch also provides habitat connectivity between the Upper Clark Fork and Flint Creek Valleys, through proximity to several nearby, privately conserved ranches, and BLM and USFS lands.
The richness of the Graveley Ranch is not something the Graveleys keep to themselves, however. For the last 22 years, they have allowed hunting on their land, through Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ (FWP) Block Management program. With the finalization of their conservation easements, that access will now be possible in perpetuity.
The landmark project required not only patience, but strong relationships between the Graveley family, Five Valleys, The Conservation Fund, Montana FWP and the funding partners that made the project possible, including the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program, the Heart of the Rockies Initiative, and private donations. Five Valleys is grateful to the Graveley family for their vision, patience and commitment. Thanks to their generosity, this part of the Little Blackfoot will remain rugged and beautiful ranchland for generations to come.
Photos by Five Valleys staff