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Friends of Lee Metcalf Refuge commits $20k to Land Trust


Two local organizations are teaming up again to make a lasting impact on working ranches and wildlife habitat. Friends of Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge and the Bitter Root Land Trust have partnered to make voluntary, landowner-driven conservation an option for the people and landscapes surrounding the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.

“The community of Stevensville is unique,” said Gavin Ricklefs, Executive Director of the Bitter Root Land Trust. “As the first incorporated town in Montana, the area’s farming and ranching history is rich and the presence of the Lee Metcalf NWR so close to town makes for a vibrant mix of important wildlife habitat, enhanced by long-operating farms and ranches. Conservation efforts in Stevensville are truly driven by private landowners who have a deep personal connection to working lands and wildlife.”

Three years ago, the Friends of Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge recognized the importance of landowner-driven conservation efforts, including their positive impact on the important wildlife habitat of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, and made a grant to the Bitter Root Land Trust to support private landowners’ conservation efforts in the vicinity of the Refuge.

“The Friends of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge continue to financially support conservation projects that benefit the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge,” said Paul Hayes, President of Friends of LMNWR. “We are pleased to partner with the Bitter Root Land Trust in the common goal of this endeavor. Financial contributions from the Friends assist the Bitter Root Land Trust in obtaining additional voluntary conservation easements with landowners adjacent to the refuge. Not only are these conservation easements a direct benefit to the wildlife habitat on the Refuge, they are also an important wildlife corridor between the Sapphire Mountains and the Bitterroot Mountains. The Friends wish to thank and acknowledge all those who support us by purchasing the Blue Heron Wildlife Refuge License Plate.”

As landowner interest in conserving the water, wildlife habitat, and working agricultural lands that epitomize Stevensville has grown, so has the Bitter Root Land Trust’s workload. The Friends of Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge have continued to help the Land Trust invest in private land conservation efforts, recently committing an additional $20,000 to provide the necessary capacity for the Bitter Root Land Trust staff to meet the demand for conservation services in the Stevensville area.

“Our partnership with the Friends of Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge has been extremely valuable for farm and ranch landowners in the Stevensville area and to long-term health of agricultural and wildlife habitat resources on private lands near the Refuge,” said Ricklefs. “We are extremely grateful for their ongoing support.”

Funds for the $20,000 grant come from the sale of Wildlife Refuge license plates throughout the state of Montana. Those plates featuring a great blue heron and the words “Wildlife Refuge” were commissioned by the Friends of Lee Metcalf in 2004 and have generated over $50,000 for projects benefitting the Refuge since then.

Fred Thomas, secretary for Friends of Lee Metcalf, said, “We felt that the Bitter Root Land Trust’s work was a good fit for our organization. They provide a voluntary, landowner-driven tool to conserve important landscapes in this community. These projects will likely have substantial conservation results for resources that we care deeply about on and around the Lee Metcalf Refuge.”

The Friends’ grant ensures the Bitter Root Land Trust will have the resources necessary to work with area landowners interested in conserving their family farm or ranch. According to Tori Nobles, Bitter Root Land Trust President, “With this donation, the Friends of the Lee Metcalf Refuge have helped more local families realize their conservation vision for their important ranchlands. The board and staff of the Bitter Root Land Trust are grateful for the opportunity to help these local families conserve the open lands that make Stevensville such a special community.”

For more information about the Friends of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, visit

The Bitter Root Land Trust has been partnering with local landowners to conserve the water, wildlife, and working farms and ranches of the Bitterroot Valley for 15 years. For more information about private land conservation contact the Land Trust at 375-0956, or visit

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