VICTOR — On a hot and sunny Saturday in early June, volunteers helped with fence pulling at a cattle ranch near Victor, Montana as a way to say "thank you."
It may not seem like much, but it’s honest work. Pulling out old barbed-wire fencing requires the right tools, some good working gloves, and muscle.
Volunteers with the Montana Wildlife Federation and Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association brought all of that to the table to help out at the Hackett Ranch.
“We feel really fortunate to have great conservation partners like the Hackett family and this is just our way of giving back,” Nick Goveck, Montana Wildlife Federation Conservation Director, told MTN News.
Removing unneeded fencing reduces potential hazards for migrating elk and allows cattle to roam free.
The Hackett family stems back into Montana’s history several generations - mining and ranching as their sustenance.
Since they’ve owned their property in the Bitterroot Mountains, they’ve allowed members of the public to go onto private land, allowing entry to a trailhead leading to the surrounding wilderness.
“The Hacketts and many landowners provide a lot of habitat for our public wildlife and so it's a great partnership between hunters and landowners where they provide habitat, we help them manage the animals and reduce crop and fence damage," Goveck explained.
Goveck said the volunteer day is an extension of the partnership hunters and landowners have had in Montana for decades; "You bring in a bunch of people and you can get a lot of work done.”
This family-owned ranch is four years into turning more than five hundred acres into a conservation easement through a partnership with Fish Wildlife & Parks. The legal agreement limits certain uses of the land indefinitely.
“540 acres, that's a big chunk of undeveloped land in the Bitterroots and it's really great habitat with excellent winter forage for elk, as well as deer, and all kinds of other non-game species,“ Goveck said.
The conservation easement plans allow continued public access for recreation and hunting while limiting development, it's in the final stage. Once set in stone, members of the public will continue to use the trail access for generations to come.
Scott Hackett, one of the owners of the family ranch, told MTN News the length of time to set the easement is necessary.
“It's something that yea it takes a while to do, but I'm not so sure that isn't good because it gives you some time to think and adjust, because you don't think of everything all at once and you're trying to do something forever," Hackett explained, "that's kind of hard to try to fathom what forever is gonna look like.”
Hackett says the timely process distances the land from future development and ensures conservation of the environment.
“I think it gives you some peace that it's going to stay the way it is because when we choose to sell this place, the public will still have access in the future, and won't be dependent on who owns the place whether or not you can come and go,” Hackett said.
Hackett grew up on the ranch and continues the hard work of raising livestock on the land. He led the crew of helpers out onto his property Saturday to take some of that work off his plate. About 25 people and 1 dog came out to volunteer.