Saving places: Montana conservation easement
Rocky Mountain front rancher preserves ranch through conservation easement
Karl Rappold has seen a lot of big grizzly bears this summer on his ranch along the Rocky Mountain Front.
An 850-pound bear wildlife officials believe is the largest bear ever captured south of the Canadian border was hanging out there, and a grizzly sow with yearling cubs have also frequented the ranch. Rappold, like his father and grandfather before him, is protective of the bears who spend time on his ranch. And he continues to take steps to ensure that their future - and the future of the ranch - will be protected.
Last spring he signed a conservation easement of over 469 acres, which includes about a mile of the south side of Scoffin Creek, an area regularly used by grizzlies. This parcel is adjacent to other Rappold land that is already protected by conservation easement. The Rappolds now have a total of 4,677 acres under easement along the Rocky Mountain Front, and plan to add to that total in the future. "We want to preserve this ranch the way it has been. We don't want more houses up here.
These big grizzlies won't be around if there are houses," says Rappold. "I've seen more bears up here this year than I've ever seen." His scenic property lies adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Rappold has as strong a conservation vision, stemming from his family's long-term relationship with the land, built through ranching it since the late 1800s, says Dave Carr of The Nature Conservancy, who has worked on this and several conservation easements with the Rappolds.
The Rappold ranch is a tremendous area for grizzlies and all kinds of wildlife, says Mike Madel, grizzly bear biologist for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "It's in one of the wildest most isolated areas on the Front. There are no roads up there and no people traveling around, so the bears aren't disturbed." It's possible that as many as 15 grizzlies use the Rappold property.
The property includes about five miles of the headwaters of Scoffin Creek and its tributaries. It has a wide diversity of habitat: stands of aspens and shrubs, grasslands, and riparian areas, which make it attractive for wildlife. Madel says all the major carnivores are represented here: grizzly bear and black bear, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions and wolverines. This latest Rappold easement helps form a common boundary with the Boone and Crockett Club's 6,054-acre Teddy Roosevelt Memorial Ranch and the Kratt Brothers' 1,222-acre property. These properties are covered by a Nature Conservancy conservation easement.
Farther south along the Front, the Nature Conservancy has easements on the Dellwo and Crary ranches and owns the Pine Butte Swamp Preserve. Bears frequent these private lands, 43,987 acres of which are covered by Conservancy conservation easements. By selling conservation easements to the Conservancy, Rappold has been able to purchase land adjacent to his ranch and expand his ranch operation, which raises Angus cattle.
The management of the cattle operation has not been affected by the conservation easements, he says. The Rappolds first worked with the Nature Conservancy in 1998 when they became concerned that an adjacent property that was for sale could potentially get developed. The road to this 788-acre parcel, abutting the Bob Marshall Wilderness, passes through their property and could have seen increased traffic if developed.
The Conservancy purchased the property and leased the grazing rights to the Rappolds. Then in 2001, the Conservancy traded the 788 acres to the Rappolds in exchange for a conservation easement upon it and an adjacent 1,300 acres of the Rappold ranch. Not all the folks in the area along the Rocky Mountain Front like the idea of conservation easements.
"Some of my neighbors wonder why I'm doing this," Rappold said. "And I say, 'because I believe in what we're doing. It's what I want to see happening on the Front."
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