Gollehons, grizzlies and grasslands
Tue, Mar 24 2009 at 1:18 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
The Gollehon family – conservation partners and neighbors of the Conservancy for almost 30 years – has signed a conservation easement that forever protects the ranch’s native grasslands on the Rocky Mountain Front. (The easement covers 5,943 acres, which includes around 2,400 acres the Gollehons owed plus two neighboring properties that had come up for sale.) The easement proceeds from these three transactions allowed the Gollehons to purchase the two additional properties, while permanently protecting all three.
The agreement allows the Gollehons to continue its current ranching. The easement doesn’t allow plowing native prairie and limits the area where new buildings can be placed.
Biologists rank this area around Willow Creek, west of Choteau, Montana, among the highest quality grizzly habitat on the Rocky Mountain Front. Grizzly bears commonly roam the meandering creek and area wetlands. Just to the north of the Gollehon ranch is the Conservancy’s Pine Butte Swamp Reserve, also a haven for grizzlies.
Surrounding Willow Creek are native grasslands that provide nesting habitat for four grassland bird species whose populations have plummeted elsewhere on the Great Plains: long-billed curlew, Sprague’s pipit, ferruginous hawk and McCown’s longspur. Elsewhere grasslands such as these are being plowed up or developed.
On the Front, the same wildlife species that existed here 200 years ago are still here today, minus buffalo. The Front remains the only place in the continental U.S. where grizzly bears continue to roam the prairies. This is high value habitat and the ranchers here know how to live with it.
That’s why the Conservancy and its partners are using tools such as conservation easements to help keep these stewards on the land and protect prime habitat like this from being disrupted by subdivisions. The Gollehon ranch is within a larger 35,000-acre block of native grassland extending from Willow Creek north to the Teton River. The Conservancy is working with other landowners in the area who, along with the Gollehons have conserved almost 20,000 acres of this grassland.
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