Another conservation easement is winding its way through the county’s Open Lands Bond process as the Bitterroot Land Trust slowly adds to its long list of success stories in the Burnt Fork area of the Bitterroot.
On April 15, the Ravalli County Commissioners gave conditional approval to a request for use of Open Lands Bond funds to pay a portion of the costs incurred in placing a conservation easement on 223 acres up the Burnt Fork owned by Doug and Janis Astle.
The ranch is located on Cash Nichols Road about two miles east of Stevensville. The couple has been involved in agriculture all their lives and plan to keep on keeping on in the Bitterroot. The ranch is composed of four separate parcels that have been combined into the easement. Five acres in the northwest corner have been left out for potential future development. There is a six-acre building envelope around the existing buildings. The rest of the ranch will continue to be used for crop, pasture and livestock production. South Swamp Creek cuts through the property adding riparian values to the deal.
The Astles are requesting $215,000, or $995 per acre from the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond Program to pay a portion of the easement’s estimated value. It will be matched by a $300,000 federal grant. The Open Lands Bond committee unanimously recommended approval of the funds.
According to Gavin Ricklefs of the Bitter Root Land Trust, the total value of the Astle conservation easement is $600,000 and the project costs come to $42,660 for a combined budget total of $642,660.
A matching grant from the Natural Resource and Conservation Service will contribute $300,000 and the landowner’s contribution by the Astles totals $127,660.
If the Open Lands Bond request of $215,000 is finally approved, according to Ricklefs, a total of 2390 acres will have been conserved in the Burnt Fork using Open Land Bond funds to cover a portion of the costs. The Astle easement will be the ninth conservation project to close in as many years.
The Friends of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge has made a significant contribution to the development of conservation easements in the Burnt Fork area by the Bitter Root Land Trust. The organization aims to protect an important wildlife/wildfowl corridor between the Sapphire Mountains and the National Wildlife Refuge located north of Stevensville along the Bitterroot River. To date, 2173 acres in the Burnt Fork has been conserved using some portion of Open Land Bond funds. Combined with 4700 acres protected in other projects in the area, close to 7000 acres of land in the Burnt Fork is under some form of conservation easement and protected from future development.
Ricklefs calls what is going on there “an incredible success story that can serve as a model for the whole state.”
In the bigger picture, the Open Land Bond Program has conserved about 6610 acres in Ravalli County by helping to establish an impressive array of easements with an estimated value of $17,083,800. The Open Lands Bond Program has contributed almost $4.5 million to the placement of the easements with matching funds coming in from other sources totaling over $4.2 million. Participating landowners have donated a total of about $8.5 million.