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Success Story

Mussard Conservation Easement Protects Property in the Upper Horse Prairie Watershed

Sagebrush flats on the Arbuckle Ranch in Carter County, Montana

The Mussard's conservation easement, completed with a multi-pronged partnership, protects a variety of land types including sagebrush grasslands and wet meadows. 

Story courtesy of the Nature Conservancy in Montana.

The 2,430-acre Mussard-Barrett conservation easement successfully closed in February 2021. The Nature Conservancy in Montana would like to thank the Mussard and Barrett Families for their commitment to conserve this unique piece of Montana and their unwavering patience throughout the project. We would also like to extend our sincere thanks to our partners at the NRCS, Montana Sage Grouse Program, and Montana Association of Land Trusts (MALT) who played instrumental roles in making this conservation project a reality. 

Funding for the project came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) Program, the State of Montana’s Sage Grouse Habitat Stewardship FundThe Nature Conservancy, and a donation of easement value from Bryan and Marcia Mussard.

The Mussard-Barrett property is located within the heart of the upper Horse Prairie watershed, west of Clark Canyon Reservoir within the High Divide Headwaters. The property consists of 4 separate tracts, three along Horse Prairie Creek floodplain and one larger tract consisting primarily of sagebrush grassland. The riparian wetlands and wet meadows along Horse Prairie provide excellent habitat for westslope cutthroat trout, moose, elk, long-billed curlew, sandhill crane, bobolink, willow flycatcher, and northern waterthrush. Sagebrush steppe uplands on the property are diverse, and include arid low sagebrush flats, grassland parks, numerous springs, creeks and bogs, dense stands of montane sagebrush, and stands of Douglas fir forest. Combined, these uplands provide outstanding habitat for greater sage-grouse, Brewers sparrow, sage thrasher, green-tailed towhee, pygmy rabbit, pronghorn, elk, moose, ferruginous hawk, golden eagle, wolverine, black bear, and wolves.

Geographically, the easement begins to build a protected north-south corridor across the Horse Prairie watershed, linking other protected lands to the north with public lands in the southern Beaverhead Range to the south and within the Medicine Lodge Valley. This is a region that TNC and partners, including Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Wildlife Federation, have recently increased conservation investments, including wet meadow and low-tech stream restoration projects and fence modification work directed by recent pronghorn collar data.  The protection work in the watershed is helping lead the way for these restoration efforts by building positive relationships with area landowners.

Bryan and Marcia Mussard had leased summer pastureland protected with a TNC conservation easement in the Big Hole. Their dream was to find higher elevation summer pastureland of their own and knew that selling an easement could be one of the only ways they could afford such a purchase. They are one very big step closer to making that a reality.

The Mussards are outspoken champions of how ranching and conservation fit together hand in glove.