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Success Story

Honoring the 'Last Best Place'

Field with tress and snow capped mountains in the distance

Charlie and Sarah DeVoe work with NRCS and Bitter Root Land Trust to preserve wildlife habitats and open space grasslands on their family land.

Story and photos courtesy Bitter Root Land Trust

Nestled between the foothills of the Bitterroot Valley’s Sapphire Mountain Range and the Bitterroot River sits one family’s beloved 820-acres of pristine wildlife habitat, rangeland and scenic landscape that will remain forever preserved, thanks to the completion of a conservation easement made possible in part by critical funding received from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Land Easement-Grasslands of Special Significance (ALE-GSS) program.

Conserved in February 2023 by co-landowners and siblings Charlie and Sarah DeVoe, the family property features sagebrush shrublands and montane grasslands, forest, stream and riparian habitat – all which supports locally important species such as elk, black bear, mountain lion, mule deer, fox, owls, Brewer’s sparrow, and sage thrasher, as well as the ever-elusive wolverine and badger. Charlie DeVoe remembers a day when he and his wife Alana counted over 300 head of elk spread out across the entire front of the property, the herd spanning over a mile across the land.
“It’s a different kind of place, up here,” says Charlie. “There has not been one day where we haven’t seen any wildlife on the property. Not only that, over the years we have identified over 150 different types of wildflowers out here. It’s truly incredible.”

When asking Charlie what drove he and his sister Sarah to explore putting the property into conservation, he says, “Once our father, the original landowner, passed away, our family agreed that the land we’ve been coming to for years to camp, hunt and spend time simply cannot be replaced. It would be horrible for the habitat and unique nature of this property should it ever be split up and sold off separately, which was the intended outcome for the land when our father first purchased the initial 940-acres and divided it into 20-acre lots. Instead of selling off the individual parcels, some of which had already been sold, our family decided to put the remaining 820-acres into conservation, together as one property. We did this so that our family and others after us will have the opportunity to continue to enjoy the beautiful and irreplaceable views, flowers, plants, trees and wildlife on this special property. The wildlife will still have room to roam, no matter what.”

In addition to pristine wildlife habitat, the conservation of the open space grasslands provides opportunities to continue cattle grazing practices as well, ensuring that these lands will remain available for agricultural use in perpetuity. The DeVoe family leases a portion of the property to local ranchers, which they see as a “win, win” situation for all.

“The grazing keeps the grass down which helps us, and it also offers local ranchers a place for them to run their cattle during a time when land is getting harder and harder around the Bitterroot to find,” says Charlie. “We wanted to be able to continue to offer that.”
The DeVoe conservation easement contributes to the growing area of private working land conservation in the Burnt Fork, Sunset Bench, and Willoughby Creek areas of Stevensville. Adjacent to the property includes several BRLT held conservation easements, with 1,260-acre Rory R Ranch neighboring to the northwest and more than a dozen other completed and in-progress conservation easements on Sunset Bench and in the Burnt Fork drainage.

“When we first acquired the property, one could sit up here at night and look across the valley and it would be miles and miles before seeing a yard light,” remembers Charlie. “Now, you can look down the valley and as far as you can see, it’s nothing but lights. Anyone who has spent time here in the Bitterroot knows, this is truly the ‘last best place.’ And, if we don’t try to maintain open space, it will be gone forever.”

Fortunately, not only for the DeVoe family, but for the many Bitterroot community members and visitors who value the area’s legendary open space, wildlife and agriculture, another portion of the ‘last best place’ will remain protected forever.

“I feel strongly that the only thing that will be able to preserve more land like ours are programs like NRCS and organizations like the Bitter Root Land Trust,” says Charlie. “Without them, and similar conservation efforts, this type of land will be changed forever. I am forever grateful for the Land Trust for helping to make this happen for us.”

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