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Conservation Focus | Western Rivers Conservancy Buys Eagle Rock Ranch on the Wise River

By Kimberly Lowry, Broker Associate for Fay Ranches, Licensed in Montana

The deep roots of the current Split Diamond Ranch registered Angus seed stock operation began somewhat humbly in the scenic Wise River corridor in the 1970s. Owner Steve Buckner fell in love with the stunning property at the base of “Eagle Rock,” adjacent to the cool waters of the Wise River. He raised both quality children and quality cattle on the ranch surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in Western Montana. The cattle were tough, traveling through rugged mountain terrain while feeding on abundant grasses in the adjacent National Forest Lands during the summer months while the family raised hay on the ranch for winter feed. The Buckner Family worked diligently over the years to expand their ranch and grow their brand. They earned a reputation within the Angus breed, sharing their quality genetics developed with an emphasis on raising moderate-framed, easy calving yet high-growth cattle in the mountains of Montana. Bulls and replacement heifers raised by the Split Diamond Ranch are purchased each year during the annual bull and heifer sale by breeders from across the state and nation looking to improve their herds.

The quality of the cattle is undoubtedly influenced by the land on which they are raised. The Eagle Rock Ranch land has served as a foundation for the Split Diamond Ranch’s current operations while allowing the family to raise their children in the 49-mile long corridor affectionately referred to as the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. Today’s Split Diamond Ranch headquarters are in Whitehall, Montana. A visit to the Eagle Rock Ranch allows one to step back in time with the unchanged landscape and historic cabins, barns, and corrals all still in place where the Split Diamond brand first began.

One of the founding pillars of Fay Ranches regards conservation and preservation of the land for generations to come. Though an important ethos amongst the Fay Ranches brokers, when a property unencumbered by a conservation easement becomes available for sale, there is no guarantee it will remain as open land in the future. When the opportunity arose to present the Eagle Rock Ranch on the Wise River for sale, listing Brokers Kimberly Lowry and Branif Scott were well aware that it might be a candidate for a buyer wishing to construct a development.

There was great excitement when fellow Fay Ranches Ranch Sales Ryan Bramlette brought forward Willis Yarberry of Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC). He viewed the property as a potential project aimed at maintaining the legacy of the land, protecting the critical Wise River corridor, and preserving the land for generations to come. Yarberry, WRC’s Director of Government Affairs and Special Projects, spends much of his time on the road throughout the Rocky Mountain West in search of properties to fit the organization’s conservation criteria. Operating under the motto “Sometimes to save a river, you have to buy it,” WRC purchases land along rivers across the West to conserve fish and wildlife habitat, protect critical sources of cold water, and create recreational access for people. This mission propelled the organization to pursue the Eagle Rock Ranch.

Buckner was pleased with the outcome. “Thanks to Fay Ranches Brokers Kimberly Lowry and Branif Scott, we were able to retain the Homestead improvements and our Forest Service Allotment, sell to a conservation-minded group, and expand our present operation in Whitehall, Montana, which is an ideal scenario for all involved.”

The ranch sits on the Wise River, located in a critical corridor that influences the Big Hole River, which it meets just a few miles from the ranch. Yarberry, a veteran of land conservation whose background includes a degree in biology and over two decades in the conservation real estate business, quickly recognized the importance of preserving the Eagle Rock Ranch and the critical water associated with it. Working with some of their financial partners who share their values, WRC recently closed on the purchase. The organization is now working to raise funds to transfer the property to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest for permanent conservation. This land will ultimately be preserved as public land, and the ranch’s water rights will be dedicated in-stream for the benefit of the Wise River’s fish, thanks to WRC and the organization’s partnership with the National Forest Service, whose conservation goals all align.

“The sale of the Eagle Rock Ranch and our relationship with Fay Ranches presents a tremendous opportunity for Western Rivers Conservancy to return critically-needed flows to the Wise River for the sake of its Arctic grayling, wild trout, and other native fish,” said Yarberry. “This project, which is still underway, builds on years of conservation efforts by local, state, and national partners working collaboratively within the Big Hole River system, and we are very proud to play a part in that effort.”

The transaction representing the Eagle Rock Ranch is a win for the Big Hole River fishery, wildlife that calls the region home, and those who enjoy this scenic corridor, as the landscape will remain the same for years to come.

To learn more about Western Rivers Conservancy and how to contribute toward its efforts on the Wise River and other valuable projects nationwide, please feel free to visit their website: www.westernrivers.org

To learn more about the Split Diamond Ranch, visit: https://splitdiamond.com/

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