Editor's note: This story was corrected at 7 p.m. on 10/17/18 to reflect the following change: The Nature Conservancy purchased the easement.
Bozeman-based Nature Conservancy purchased a 13,535-acre easement on a ranch in the Medicine Lodge Valley in southern Beaverhead County in an effort to protect both wildlife and the land's existing agricultural use.
The Hansen Ranch, a fourth-generation family-owned ranch, placed the easement on the northernmost portion of their 30,000-acre ranch earlier this month.
Eric Hansen, one of the family owners, said this easement will keep the ranch a working ranch into the future.
“I’m fourth generation and I want my daughter to run the ranch some day and her kids and even if something happens and we can no longer do it, I want this to be a working ranch and stay the way it is,” Hansen said in a news release.
The Medicine Lodge Valley is south of Dillon. The Hansen Ranch includes more than 25 miles of valley bottom and surrounding mountains. The easement tract is bounded by two public roads and bisected by a perennial trout stream. Because of these features, conservationists say the land could have been vulnerable to subdivision and development.
The proposed easement contains two active sage grouse breeding grounds. Sage grouse are an embattled species with many western states working together under regulations proposed in 2015 to protect the species to prevent federal protection and oversight.
The land slated for easement contains both forest and sagebrush land and contains healthy streams, according to the news release.
It is the largest private ownership in the Medicine Lodge Valley and plays host to wildlife, including the greater sage grouse, pronghorns, wolves, wolverines, elk, moose and mule deer.
Funding for the easement was provided in part by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Montana Sage-Grouse Habitat Conservation Program.