The 3,400-acre Peters easement, located within the Big Sheep watershed of the High Divide Headwaters, closed on schedule.
Story courtesy The Nature Conservancy.
Since 2011, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has identified the Big Sheep watershed as a conservation priority based on its exceptional conservation values. These include its undeveloped, intact condition, its high biologic diversity, and its unique landscape position providing connections for wide-ranging wildlife between the Greater Yellowstone and Salmon Selway/Bitterroot ecosystems. Peters is the first conservation easement completed in this remote valley.
Funding for the project came from both the NRCS Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) program and the State of Montana’s Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program. These two programs have been transformative in the protection work they have enabled in Montana’s High Divide.
"I am deeply grateful for the trust and patience of Roger and Carrie Peters, whose commitment to Montana’s ranching heritage and love for this corner of Montana carried them through the easement process. Such tenacity and values are instrumental in keeping Montana wild and working," said Jim Berkey, TNC High Divide Headwaters Director.
The upper Big Sheep watershed sits at the southernmost tip of Montana and is lined with the Italian Peaks of the Beaverhead Range that mark the Continental Divide. This arc of high north aspect mountain slopes provides some of the most robust and resilient supplies of cold clean water into the Missouri Headwaters system. This mountainous region is largely public land and provides some of the wildest and most ecologically intact habitat within Montana’s High Divide Headwaters landscape. The watershed’s position between the Great Basin and the Northern Rockies, along with its diverse geology, give rise to an unusual abundance of rare plant species – enough to be designated an Important Plant Area by the Montana Native Plant Society. The intact high elevation (~6,500 ft.) sage steppe valley bottom in Big Sheep (including the Peters Ranch) is designated as a “core area” for greater sage-grouse.
The conservation easement will protect the native sagebrush steppe, abundant wet meadows, and riparian and wetland habitats associated with Nicholia and Rock creeks, supporting native fish and wildlife including westslope cutthroat trout, sage-grouse, Brewer’s sparrow, sage thrasher, pygmy rabbit, grizzly bear, wolverine, pronghorn, elk, moose, willow flycatcher, long-billed curlew and sandhill crane.