Mission Valley Conservation Easement Protects 122-acre Ranch Near Bison Range

The parcel, once platted for subdivision, has received permanent protections through the Flathead Land Trust

By Beacon Staff
A view of John Weaver's 122-acre property east of the National Bison Range. Photo courtesy of Flathead Land Trust

A 122-acre ranch and wildlife haven in the Mission Valley, once slated for development, has received permanent protection through a conservation easement between the property owner and the Flathead Land Trust.

The nonprofit organization announced Monday that John Weaver, a retired conservation biologist and land steward, has added the parcel along Mission Creek just east of the National Bison Range to his conservation portfolio. Weaver’s adjacent 159-acre property to the south, containing a section of Sabine Creek, was placed under conservation easement with Flathead Land Trust in 2015. The land is permanently set aside for agriculture, wildlife and as open space.

Perhaps most important from a conservation perspective, according to the Flathead Land Trust, is that it adds to and enhances an 18,000-acre protected wetland complex providing critical nesting habitat and a vital migratory stopover in the Intermountain West portion of the Pacific Flyway. It is located downstream from the Mission Mountain Wilderness, a grizzly bear stronghold, and secures a wildlife corridor on a mile-long stretch of Mission Creek, a known travel route for grizzlies. The property also offers habitat and foraging opportunities for wildlife.

“Conservation of this distinctive landscape not only safeguards the Montana way of life, our wildlife and water quality, but local residents and visitors benefit from the scenic views and open space secured within the easement,” according to a press release from the Flathead Land Trust.

Homesteaded in the early 1870s, the ranch has a rich tradition of agriculture. Over half of the property contains “farmland of local importance” as determined by the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Now permanently protected, these rich soils will be available for farming in perpetuity.

A mile-long section of Mission Creek tracks through the Weaver property. Photo courtesy of Flathead Land Trust

The parcel boasts diverse bird use, with 96 species flourishing in the riverine forests, wetlands, and agricultural fields, including a multitude of songbirds, pileated woodpecker, great blue heron and bald eagle. The property provides critical nesting habitat for at least 50 species, with nearly 40 additional potential nesting species. Varied and vibrant riparian vegetation and wetlands on the Weaver II easement are also crucial for the health and integrity of Mission Creek and its spring-fed tributary flowing into the property.

One of the wetlands on the property containing gray alder and skunk cabbage has comparable value to a wetland community listed as “imperiled” by the Montana Natural Heritage Program. This unique wetland and a portion of the spring creek on the property are used by rare fireflies.

The conservation easement was made possible with funding from the North American Wetland Conservation Act, Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation through the Heart of the Rockies Keep It Connected program, Cinnabar Foundation, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Mitigation program.

Flathead Land Trust has helped conserve a total of 19,360 acres in conservation easements and through cooperative projects in northwest Montana since 1985. For more information about the work of the Flathead Land Trust, visit www.flatheadlandtrust.org.