Conservation in the Blackfoot Valley

Murray-Douglas Easement Completed

Camille and Jay Coughlin were part of the great team achieving this conservation success.

Another nearly 11,000 acres of Montana’s iconic Blackfoot River Valley has now been permanently conserved through the work of The Nature Conservancy and its partners.

Bears, elk, ranchers, and fish are all beneficiaries of a 10,760-acre conservation easement purchased by Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) in the Murray and Douglas Creek areas of the Blackfoot Valley. The easement will prevent subdivision of the land while enabling owners to continue ranching and timber harvest. It also represents another great achievement in a decade-long campaign to conserve this spectacular river valley along with its wildlife and traditional rural economy.

The Conservancy retains ownership of about 2,000 acres covered by this easement, but eventually hopes to sell the land with the easement in place. The rest is owned by the Coughlin (Blackfoot River Ranch) and Manley (Manley Ranch) families. 

 “Conservation easements are a tool to help ranching families stay on the land and pass their way of life on to their children,” said Chris Bryant, Western Montana Land Protection Specialist. “The Conservancy is extremely pleased to have played a role with our good partners in making this opportunity available to these ranches.” 

Jay Coughlin, part owner of the Blackfoot River Ranch, said that easements are a good deal for everyone. “The mountain acres we acquired are important pasture for our cattle, and the conservation easement terms ensure that the way we operate today as good stewards of the land will continue into the future.”  The Coughlin family marks their 150th year of ranching in Montana in 2013. Who could ask for better stewards!


The land is part of 89,000 acres purchased by The Nature Conservancy from Plum Creek Timber back in 2004 as the Blackfoot Community Project. While the Conservancy  took the financial risk of purchasing the land, decisions about its future are up to the community, guided by their local collaborative conservation group, the Blackfoot Challenge. So far, much of the land purchased by the Conservancy has been transferred to surrounding public and private landowners.


The landowners donated more than 30 percent of the appraised value of the easement and were compensated for the remainder with a grant made by the US Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program to FWP. The Forest Legacy Program supports state efforts to protect forest lands from development so that they will continue to supply timber, provide wildlife habitat, and offer soil and watershed protection and recreation opportunities.