Five Valleys Land Trust is pleased to announce our newest conservation easement project in the Grass Valley, west of Missoula. Over the following months, Five Valleys will be working with the Isbell Family to place a conservation easement on 75 acres of rich agricultural soils here. While the Grass Valley is dotted with many farms and ranches, the story of the Isbell place is anything but ordinary.
Less than a decade ago, these fields were approved for a 16-lot subdivision, then called the Blue Heron Estates. While the subdivision was approved by Missoula County, no ground was ever broken. Then, three years ago Brad Isbell and his wife, Stephanie, purchased the property and moved their family from St. Ignatius to the lush valleys bottoms near Frenchtown. And lush they are--of the 75 acres that make up the Isbell property, 62 of them are deemed "Prime Farmland if Irrigated." The Isbells have worked hard over to bring their land up to speed: they've controlled the once abundant houndstounge and other noxious weeds and plan to use modern rotational grazing techniques on the sustainable legume-grass-forbe mixture they will plant this next spring. The Isbell's growing herd of goats, sheep and cattle will graze this mixture, providing fresh, local meat to the markets around Missoula and across the region.
“You can make a lot more money on building houses here and raising houses than you can raising grass, but once you put the houses there, that’s all you’ve got. People have to eat. It just makes more sense to me that we build where it’s more appropriate and stay off the soils.” - Brad Isbell
But it's not only agriculture that a proposed conservation easement will benefit. Located just a stone's throw from the Lower Clark Fork River, the land is home is a wide variety of wildlife, especially birds. The Isbell property is encompassed by the Clark Fork River-Grass Valley Important Bird Area, which is home to over 230 species of birds throughout the year. The Isbells themselves are working to improve wildlife habitat along the slough that runs through their land, which will provide nesting sites for ducks and other waterfowl.
"For Five Valleys Land Trust this is just a great example of how voluntary conservation can protect these ag soils, this bird habitat, and it’s here for generations to come. It’s working because Brad wants to do it. It supports his goals, it supports what’s important to him too. So it’s kind of a win-win.” - Sarah Richey, Five Valleys Conservation Project Manager
Over the next few months, Five Valleys Land Trust will be seeking funding for the Isbell-Blue Heron project from the Missoula Open Space Bond Program. If funding is secured, Five Valleys hopes to finalize a conservation easement on the property by the end of 2016, ensuring that these exceptional soils will continue to be used for agriculture, in perpetuity.
Top photo by Cathrine L. Walters