USDA Under Secretary Visits Boyer Ranch
USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie visited the Boyer family ranch near Frenchtown, Montana, in February 2014. Bonnie was in Montana visiting both private and public land conservation projects.
The Boyer Ranch is under two different conservation easements. With assistance from the NRCS Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), the Missoula County Open Space Bond, the local chapter of the Audubon Society, and members of Five Valleys Land Trust, 752 acres of the Boyer Ranch were conserved in 2009 in an easement. In 2012, the Five Valleys Land Trust received additional FRPP funds, adding another 160 acres to the final phase of the easement.
At more than 1,200 acres, the Boyer Ranch is one of the largest agricultural operations remaining in the Missoula Valley, according to Pelah Hoyt, Five Valleys Land Trust lands director. “Located four miles west of Frenchtown, which is near Missoula, much of the ranch is highly developable and extraordinarily valuable,” she said.
NRCS’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses.
The Boyer family began farming and ranching near Frenchtown more than 100 years ago and passed the ranch on through several generations of land stewards. The ranch’s current steward is Joe Boyer.
When asked why a conservation easement, Boyer answered this way—“One day I thought to myself, if something happens to me, what is going to happen to this land?” He said that is why an easement made sense.
“I thought if I can get the land into an easement, whoever gets it is going to have to be a farmer or rancher,” he said.
Ninety-nine percent of the Boyer Ranch is used for agricultural production. The relative proportions of cropland, pasture and hay land may vary from year to year as the family assesses conditions to determine the best use of the ranch’s farm and rangeland that year.
In addition, a majority of the soils are designated “locally important” and “prime if irrigated” by NRCS. These soil categories are central to the purpose of FRPP, to preserve the agricultural values for future food production.
In 2012, the Boyer donated an additional easement of 167 acres of lowland agricultural property simultaneously with the FRPP conservation easement.
The ranch’s high-quality agricultural values are complemented by important wildlife habitat, Hoyt said.
The Boyer Ranch is situated within a Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Tier 1 Focus Area, considered the greatest need of conservation in the state. The property’s agricultural land, woody draws and grasslands are valuable for birds. Grassland habitats, like those on the Boyer Ranch, are the most threatened habitat type in the nation and their value has been recognized by the state of Montana. Surveys conducted by the local chapter of the Audubon Society have recorded more than 45 different bird species on the Boyer Ranch—including the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, nesting pairs of Calliope Hummingbird and Lazuli Bunting, and Swainson’s Hawk.
Boyer said the easements have helped him invest back into the ranch. He installed a high-efficiency irrigation system to use less water and stockwater tanks to facilitate better grazing.
Caring for the land is something Boyer takes seriously. “My family settled here in the late 1870s because of the soil, and they relied on it for their existence. They were farmers, ranchers, loggers, and miners. Without the soil, they would not have made it. Taking care of the land is something I owe my ancestors and my heirs.”
Joe Boyer, left, rancher near Frenchtown, Montana, shows USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie land he has placed in a Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program easement.
Through the NRCS Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Five Valleys Land Trust, and other partners, 752 acres of the Joe Boyer Ranch near Frenchtown were conserved in 2009 in an easement. Another 160 acres were added to the final phase of the easement in 2012. Boyer reinvested funds into a more efficient irrigation system to use less water for his crops.