As Ranch Brokers, we have the opportunity to visit, view, and represent some of the most beautiful properties in the west. Past land practices from over 100 years ago are still present on the properties telling a picture of how the property and region were utilized as the west was settled. As people who enjoy wildlife, we are the beneficiaries of these long term private land stewards. These well managed properties have more plant diversity, which leads to more wildlife.
Following the initial discoveries of gold in 1862 in the southwestern valley of Grasshopper Creek, Montana grew rapidly, first as a territory and later as a state. Timber harvesting allowed for the building of industry in Montana with railroads, mining, agriculture, homes, and commerce regarding enormous amounts of lumber. Huge blocks of timber were removed from government, railroad, and privately-owned ground. Sometimes, as chronicled, harvesting was completed with illegal or unethical means. In Montana, it takes a while to grow a tree to merchantable size. A tree that would be of size to harvest in Western Washington in 50 years, may take 120 years to grow in Montana.
As with mineral extraction, the timber companies of 100 years ago weren’t worrying about consequences of their activities on later generations. Replanting, thinning, erosion control and fishery protection were not on the list of concerns during this initial harvest period. Our current awareness of the value of the beauty of Montana and the West, is our map of how to create a land use plan that is responsible and minimizes harmful impacts, or actually improves resource quality through land practices. These old timber roads are a useful tool for this resource management.
Present Day Forest Management
Federal public lands have borne the brunt of public criticism for lack of management in the recent past leading to poor forest health and disease. We have seen in these past years how lack of proper management may lead to large scale forest fires.
Private landowners are able to act more fluidly in managing their property. Owners are also able to manage timber as a diversified piece of their overall operation. Many ranch families throughout the west have practiced what is now call “sustainable harvest timber management” for a hundred years or more. Harvesting select timber and opening up the forest canopy allows better spacing for trees to grow faster and opens up the ground to grow more grass for livestock and wildlife.
In addition to land biodiversity and land health, what I believe is the most significant impact of forestry management is the road systems in place for landowner use. Our Lone View Ranch is an impressive Montana ranch for sale. It has 14 miles of interior ranch roads, built for timber management that allows access to all parts of the ranch. Without these roads, the majority of this ranch would only have access by foot or horseback. With the interior road system, people can travel comfortably by car or truck, ATVs, mountain bikes, and snowmobiles all on these interior roads. At an estimated $8/foot to build, the cost today would be close to $600,000 to construct this road system.
Limestone Butte Hunting Ranch, which is a newly listed elk and mule deer hunting ranch, has 20 miles of roads, allowing hunters access throughout the ranch. The road systems allow us to stay in the field longer, (not that any of us are getting older), bring aging, young, or handicapped family and friends with us and provides an opportunity for their success as hunters. It also increases ranch use to summer activities like hiking, biking, and ATV riding.
I am sure the folks harvesting timber 50 or 100 years had no idea how their work would help wildlife populations, plant diversity, and access on these incredible properties. When you make it out on these ranches, take a look around and give them a moment of thanks.