Located south of Drummond, the Peterson Angus Ranch is a goldmine of healthy grassland managed for wildlife, agriculture, and native flora. Protected with a Five Valleys conservation easement in 2010, the ranch was specifically chosen in 2021 as a prime location to reintroduce Sharp-tailed Grouse (the first grouse west of the Continental Divide in 20 years!). The pristine condition of the land speaks to the amazing land ethic the conservation-minded landowners, Sue and Randy Peterson, have.
Their 3,700-acre easement property supports headwater storage for Antelope Creek, a tributary to the Clark Fork River and home to native westslope cutthroat trout. After attending a few workshops about the benefits of beaver dams, the Petersons contacted Trout Unlimited (TU) and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (Montana FWP) about the potential of using beaver dam analogs to improve headwater storage, which would in turn improve the habitat conditions for sharp-tailed grouse, large and small mammals, amphibians, and downstream trout.
“We can already see that the project has exceeded our expectations,” said Sue and Randy Peterson. “We are so pleased with the results and are very excited to do more work on the other streams in the area. Hopefully, people will see the positive impact this has had on our landscape and take interest in learning about and understanding the importance of beavers, inviting more to naturally return to the landscape.”
Beaver Dam Analogs (BDA) mimic those built by our furry friends by creating a ponding effect that allows groundwater storage to recharge and be kept cold. This process ensures that the area can support a greater number of plants and wildlife for a longer portion of the year.
“The project does a great job of highlighting the importance of headwater storage by storing more water up high in the drainage and releasing it slowly throughout the year to benefit the fishery downstream,” said project partner Tess Scanlon of TU.
The project took place in mid-July of this year. Over the course of a few weeks, Five Valleys gathered supplies in partnership with TU and the Missoula County Youth in Restoration crew. A local landowner graciously donated 1,500 willows that were harvested and transported to the Peterson Ranch.
After completing some initial groundwork a few days prior, a crew of 15 volunteers from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, TU, Montana FWP, Montana Conservation Corps, and Five Valleys braved the summer heat to install 17 BDAs.
The installation of BDAs takes a lot of strategy, tenacity, and luck. The process starts with a wall of wooden posts pounded into the ground, followed by a layer of conifers woven through the posts to slow the flow of water. Rocks and dirt are then used to fill the gaps that the conifers left. Finally, willows are woven through the posts and over the base layer to create a finished man-made beaver dam.
“The Peterson Angus Ranch BDA project is a great example of how a small group of volunteers and some low-tech restoration techniques can make a big difference,” said Torrey Ritter, Nongame Wildlife Biologist with Montana FWP. “Even tiny stream systems are vitally important on the landscape, and this restoration project will enhance and expand habitat for amphibians, songbirds, and small mammals while also enhancing a water source on the landscape for larger critters like grouse and deer.”
This project has brought new life and an improved ecosystem to parts the Peterson Angus Ranch. It has been so special to be a part of the Peterson’s vision for their land along with so many partners. We look forward to seeing the wide-ranging benefits that these BDAs can have on a landscape in the years to come.
Header photo of volunteers looking out over the Peterson Angus Ranch by Marijka Lynch-Pastoor