Preserving Wildlife Migration and Family Ranching in the Big Hole Valley


The Montana valley is known for its trophy big game, blue ribbon fishing and stunning mountain vistas.
Big Hole Valley The Montana valley is known for its trophy big game, blue ribbon fishing and stunning mountain vistas. © Tom Hart, Flickr CC BY 2.0

A rich piece of the beautiful Big Hole Valley is being preserved for wildlife and traditional ranching through a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy.

The 9,163-acre Huntley Ranch is a seasonal highway for migrating pronghorn and greater sage-grouse. Both sage-grouse and magnificent sandhill cranes nest and rear broods in the ranch’s wet meadows — emerald islands within the arid West.

It’s also understandable why the Big Hole Valley appeals to more than wildlife…and that could be a problem.

Known for its trophy big game, blue ribbon fishing and stunning mountain vistas, subdivisions and vacation homes are already starting to fracture habitat in the Big Hole. Given its location only five miles north of Jackson Hot Springs Resort along State Highway 278, the likelihood of subdivision of the Huntley Ranch was high.

“We are honored to work with the Huntley Family and deeply grateful for their commitment to conservation. We view this as a partnership to keep the Big Hole a place where wildlife and ranching can both thrive into the future. As multi-generation stewards, the Huntley’s know better than anyone how places can change, and values once taken for granted can be lost forever," says TNC’s High Divide Headwaters Program Director Jim Berkey.

By agreeing not to subdivide and develop the ranch, through this easement, the Huntley’s are preventing loss or degradation of a critical migration route and securing habitat for a variety of wide-ranging wildlife such as grizzlies, moose, wolverines, deer and elk. The ranch itself not only provides habitat but also connects habitat that many wide-ranging animals depend on across a much larger region.

The easement purchase also provides resources for the family that can help them strengthen the ranch operation and make it possible to pass the ranch on to the next generation.

Funding for the easement was provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.