By Eric Greenwell, Five Valleys’ Conservation Project Manager
Fall brings change. We feel it in cool mornings and witness it in the leaves. But for landowners Rod Bjerke, Dave Carriere, Al Carriere, and Gayle and Gerry Knudsen, change is the reason they recently donated a conservation easement to Five Valleys on their 90-acre Mission View property east of Evaro.
The Evaro area is significant in Western Montana. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) have documented that the area provides habitat connectivity during the life cycles of grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and many other species. Finley Creek, which flows through the property, is home to genetically pure native westslope cutthroat trout. Located between CSKT lands and State of Montana Trust lands, and nearby to US Forest Service lands and other Five Valleys easement properties, the Mission View property represented a missing piece in a network of conservation lands.
“A conservation easement will ensure the property is not subdivided or developed at high density,” said CSKT tribal council chair Tom McDonald in a letter supporting the project. “And it will protect fish and wildlife habitat and habitat connectivity corridors important to the Tribe.”
Since acquiring the property from the Mercer Ranch in the 1960s, the landowners have sustainably managed the heavily timbered property by balancing forest health, wildfire resilience, and economic needs. Through developing a network of irrigated pastures, the landowners also utilized the property for livestock grazing and a hay crop.
The sweat landowners invested grew into an appreciation for the property and for each other. But as decades passed, they began thinking about what would happen to their land after they were gone.
In the fall of 2021, the landowners approached Five Valleys. At that time, Paul Bjerke was one of the landowners. He was battling cancer, and his unfortunate passing reinforced to the remaining landowners the importance of seeing their project through and honoring Paul’s memory. The landowners formed Mission View, LLC with Paul’s nephew, Rod, and continued their work with Five Valleys.
The project was made possible by the landowners, who generously donated their easement. Project transaction and facilitation costs were partially funded by the citizens of Missoula County through the Missoula County Open Space Bond, as well as community donations to Five Valleys.
“(The property) is really tucked away,” said Kali Becher, Missoula County open lands project manager. “The landowners have been incredible stewards. The forest is in amazing condition. They really put their heart and soul into caring for the property. It has really vibrant riparian areas, a really healthy forest, healthy aquatic and terrestrial habitat and ag soils. They’ve put a lot of work into it.”
The shared goal of conserving their property connected the landowners in family, in friendship, and across generations. Now, their gift of a conservation easement will continue to connect wildlife and people for generations to come.
Header photo by Five Valleys staff