The River Why

2,846 acres on over three miles of the North Fork of the Musselshell River, about 1.5 hours north of Bozeman, Montana.
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Location: Montana
Acquired: 2007
Sale: 2013

Value Creation

River/Creek Restoration, Legal/Title Cleanup, Wetland Restoration

Conservation impact

Climate Change Mitigation, Climate Change Adaptation

Like its namesake novel, this Montana ranch is an expression of the truth that “life and water are inseparable.” 

Before & After

Slide the arrows from left to right to see the transformation.

All aerial photography credit Kestrel Aerial Services

Experience The Ranch

The Challenge

A century ago, the river meandered through the lush willow-laden riparian corridor, providing robust habitat for wildlife as diverse as trout, waterfowl and elk. About forty years ago, the river was straightened to better accommodate farming and ranching practices of the time. This was followed by unsustainable practices, such as heavy, unmanaged cattle grazing. The water table dropped, willows died, creek banks sloughed in, the creek widened and the water warmed. Trout, amphibians, waterfowl, and even ungulate habitat was lost.

The Solution

We acquired the ranch in 2007 and worked with Trout Unlimited to right the agricultural “improvements” that had been implemented (i.e. un-straightening the river and putting it back in its natural path). The result is a narrowed, serpentine, deep, water table-raising, cold water-producing river system that provides habitat for all sorts of wildlife. By raising the water table, the grasses thrived, providing a benefit for our grazing operation as well. We also secured legal access to an outlying parcel that had a cloud on its title. Years later, a neighboring rancher acquired the property to integrate into his own agricultural and recreational (he leases access to the stream to a fishing outfitter) operations.

The River Why Areas of Value Creation

Wetland Restoration

Slowed down and raised the water column, thereby reconnecting the creek with the flood plain.

River/Creek Restoration

Restored three miles of river, creating habitat for fish and other wildlife while providing an ecosystem service to the downstream landowner by lowering the river’s capability to flood.

Legal/Title Cleanup

Gained access to a non-adjacent parcel that had previously lacked legal, deeded access. Eliminated an inholding in the center of the ranch.

“I have fished and guided for many years all around the world and it was one of the finest days of fishing on dry flies that I have ever seen.”
— Dan V.