Conservation in the Bitterroot Valley

of Western Montana

Get yourself to a high spot on the edge of the Bitterroot Valley a spot that will give a view north and south and you'll be able to see the heritage of the valley unfold before you.

One good spot is Chaffin Butte, just east of Corvallis. It's a hard hill to miss, since it's got a big white C painted on its face. Climb to the top of the hill on a warm earlier summer day and you'll see green fields stretching down toward the Bitterroot River on both sides of the valley.

You'll see miles of ditches carrying vital irrigation water far down the valley, sprinklers watering crops and the coursing river bottom full of giant cottonwoods. You can see this as far as you look north, until the river meets up with the Clark Fork near Missoula. Look south and you'll see it until the river gets bound up in the canyon north of Darby.

Much of this open space has been kept this way because it's good ground for raising food: grain, corn and beef.

Farmers settled the valley in the 1860s because of its rich, fertile soil, warm climate and water. That heritage is alive and well today. The Eastside Highway is still a place where traffic gets backed up by a slow moving tractor. Drive by Casey's Store near Bell Crossing on any given mid-summer afternoon and you're apt to see a parking lot full of Chevy pick-ups and John Deeres.

This heritage has also provided the Bitterroot with an abundance of wildlife habitat. Deer, elk, and moose all forage in the valley bottoms. Waterfowl, pheasants and a wide variety of song birds call the river bottom home either year around or seasonally as they make their way north or south.

This fall, Bitterrooters will have a chance to preserve these open lands that provide the valley such a magnificent backdrop. The Open Lands Bond will be put to a vote and if it passes could provide $10 million to preserve agricultural land with conservation easements, protecting it forever from development and protecting the ranchers and their way of life.

But conservation efforts in the valley go far beyond the Open Lands Bond. The Bitterroot Chapter of Trout Unlimited along with the Bitterroot Water Forum and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have recently secured a deal between the Daly Ditch Company and other landowners to protect water in Skalkaho Creek, one of the Bitterroot River's main tributaries.

The project will siphon water from a large irrigation ditch that now travels through the stream, via a large diversion structure, under the stream. This will stabilize stream flows in Skalkaho Creek and proved easier fish passage for spawning cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout. It also serves as an example of how a variety of people and conservation groups can work together to protect the valley's resources.

Teller Wildlife Refuge is another example of conservation on working agricultural land. The refuge was established by the late Otto Teller in 1988. Otto was an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, who fell in love with the Bitterroot Valley. In 1988 he bought up 18 pieces of land and created the 1,200-acre private, non-profit refuge.

As a refuge, the Teller works to enhance and rehabilitate wildlife habitat, while demonstrating such activities can happen on land that is still be actively farmed. Their examples of land use serve as a reference for other landowners in the valley. Their conservation work serves as an educational tool for students and volunteers who work and recreate on the refuge.

Discover Montana Bitterroot Valley Activities, Sports and Things To Do
Camping in the Bitterroot Valley | Canoeing in the Bitterroot Valley | Conservation in the Bitterroot Valley
Cross Country Skiing in the Bitterroot Valley | Downhill Skiing in the Bitterroot Valley | Farmers Market in the Bitterroot Valley
Fly Fishing in the Bitterroot Valley | Hiking in the Bitterroot Valley | Horse Care in the Bitterroot Valley
Hunting in the Bitterroot Valley | Look outs in the Bitterroot Valley | Wildlife Watching in the Bitterroot Valley

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