Reunifying What Was Once Lost: Yoder Angus Ranch Rejoins Historic Ag Land in Stevensville, MT
Landowner Jake Yoder practices rotational grazing, an effective way of rejuvenating depleted soil. Yoder Angus Ranch rests on valuable agricultural ground and is home to a cow-calf operation. The operation is now protected by a conservation easement.
Story courtesy of the Bitter Root Land Trust
Situated on an oasis of open countryside in the Illinois Bench neighborhood of Stevensville, Montana, and surrounded by clusters of neighboring homes, the fate of the 150 acre “Yoder Angus” ranch could have someday resulted in subdivision if one Bitterroot Valley family hadn’t stepped in to conserve the property in November 2021.
The newly conserved property rests on valuable agricultural ground and is home to a cow-calf operation, as well as to a variety of native species including elk, fox, geese, ducks and hawks. The ranch is owned and operated by Jake and Fannie Yoder, who cherish the opportunity to continue a traditional way of life working in agriculture, which was made possible in large part due to critical funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Land Easement program, the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond Program, the work of the Bitter Root Land Trust, and the generous donation of easement value from the Yoder family.
After relocating to Stevensville from the St. Ignatius area where they ran a longtime cow-calf operation in the northwestern part of the state, the Yoders originally purchased 80 acres of what was at one time part of a ranch nearly double in size. The “missing” adjoining 70 acres had been previously sold to nearby neighbors, which the Yoders were eventually able to purchase as well with the goal in mind to reunify the original ranch in its entirety.
“I never dreamt that in five years we would have been able to put this farm back together. I think about that every day when I come home over the top of the hill and look around,” says landowner Jake Yoder. “I know that this is the way it will stay now. If I die tomorrow, there’s no threat that it will be sold and developed.”
As it turned out, the Yoders weren’t the only ones in tune with the land’s value. Leading up to the completion of the conservation easement, the Yoders received phone calls from multiple developers inquiring about purchasing the land.
“They said, ‘Mr. Yoder, we can help you do something with your property.’ To me, that was a rude awakening. There is something about being respectful to your ground… There’s nothing wrong with a little cow manure and a little bit of green grass and being outside on your saddle horse. We look forward to passing this down to our kids someday.”
Thanks to the vision of the Yoder family, and support from NRCS, this scenic open space will continue to serve as agricultural ground and wildlife habitat, as well as a reminder of the importance of land conservation, for years to come.