Fay has hydrologists, engineers, fishery biologists, horticulturists and a herd of other scientists working on the Ruby property. His crew has pulled up and stored what grasses were healthy and they filtered off some of the silt in the creek and removed old riprap-rocks or other materials placed on the banks for stabilization. Restoring the creek will make an excellent spawning run, as well as some good creek fishing. They also began building two ponds and a wetland area, creating habitat for waterfowl, elk and deer. Fay has undertaken quite a project here on the Ruby River, and he has four others just like it.
Ranches like this one are exchanging hands and getting makeovers all over the wide river valleys of western Montana. Land values are skyrocketing because land is no longer assessed for its agricultural use. Today, recreational and wildlife habitat potential determine the worth of property. Ranching families who have worked the land for generations and who now can’t afford to keep these ranches are selling to those who can-businessmen-who slap conservation easements on the property and then reap the tax benefits. Fay and others like him use conservation easements and watershed rehabilitation like bait to broker these properties. In the process, they are making an industry out of private property habitat restoration and protection. And, of course, they’re pulling in a few bucks for themselves.