Five Valleys Land Trust and
Frenchtown rancher Joe Boyer have worked together for over a decade to conserve
more than 1,000 acres of rich agricultural soils and wildlife habitat. Caring
for the land is something Joe takes seriously. “My family settled here in the
late 1870s because of the soil, and they relied on it for their existence. They
were farmers, ranchers, loggers, and miners. Without the soil, they would not
have made it. Taking care of the land is something I owe my ancestors and my
Today, Joe runs the ranch with his partner Lisa Stelling, who also works as a nurse in Missoula, and his daughter Gina Barnett. Gina moved back to the ranch in 2015 with her husband Harry and stepson Tyler. Harry works for the Montana Department of Transportation and Tyler manages irrigation on the ranch. Ninety-nine percent of the ranch is used for agricultural production, including growing grains and hay and raising cattle. According to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, the ranch contains over 500 acres of important agricultural soils. Joe says the conservation easements have helped him invest back into the ranch; in recent years he has installed a high-efficiency irrigation system and new stock water tanks to better distribute livestock across the ranch.
The Boyer ranch is also a haven for wildlife. An ever-growing elk herd and numerous white-tailed deer find forage and shelter on the ranch (sometimes to the detriment of Joe’s hay crop). Over 80 species of birds have been seen on the ranch, including Lewis’s Woodpecker, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Swainson’s Hawk, Golden Eagle, and Calliope Hummingbird. Where the Clark Fork River winds through an old cottonwood grove, Great Blue Herons have a rookery where they nest and raise their young.
“The upland and wetland habitats on the Boyer Ranch support an amazing diversity of birds and other wildlife,” says Jim Brown of Five Valleys Audubon. “The ranchland is part of the Clark Fork River-Grass Valley Important Bird Area and is an outstanding example of how significant wildlife and agriculture can coexist.”
Joe’s father, who is buried on the ranch, encouraged him to be a steward of the land. "You just take good care of it while you're here, Joe," he told Joe. "Just keep it up. Hold onto it. Do the best you can. Pass it on the same way." Joe says that conserving the land is doing right by his ancestors. "I'm sure when I signed the papers there with the Five Valleys, that all them people were smiling someplace.”
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