Hebgen Lake preserve a model of conservation

By Caitlin Styrsky EBS Contributor

WEST YELLOWSTONE – Yellowstone Ranch Preserve is a 753-acre cattle ranch and historic calving ground of bison from Yellowstone National Park.

The property is located on the nearly 18,000-acre Horse Butte peninsula on Hebgen Lake, north of West Yellowstone and only a few miles from the western boundary of the park. The peninsula is primarily Forest Service land, but 1,200 acres are privately owned and residential development has increased in recent years.

Rob Galanis noticed the burgeoning development on Horse Butte peninsula and decided to protect the YRP habitat from encroaching construction. He and his family purchased the property in 2007 with the intention of preserving the area for future generations.

“We were aware of how sensitive a property it is and we didn’t want to see it developed,” Galanis said, “which is why we worked hard to put the conservation easement in place.”

After years of planning and negotiations, YRP was officially placed under a conservation easement with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust in March 2010. A nonprofit based in Bozeman, GVLT works to connect people, communities and open spaces; and helps private landowners like Galanis conserve their land.

The YRP hosts a variety of wildlife, including elk, moose, bear and fox, and the wetlands along the lakefront attract a number of bird species, including bald eagles that nest on the property and feed on lake fish. And bison from Yellowstone National Park return to the property each spring.

Part of the Yellowstone bison herd that visits their ancestral calving grounds on the YPR each spring. PHOTO BY WES OVERVOLD

Part of the Yellowstone bison herd that visits their ancestral calving grounds on the YRP each spring. PHOTO BY WES OVERVOLD

“The property has historically been a migratory corridor for bison to return and calf,” said Galanis, referencing the Yellowstone bison herd. “In the spring, there will be 300-400 head of bison on the property.”

The conservation easement works to protect the natural habitat while continuing to allow for limited development. Under the terms of the easement, the owner may devel-op up to nine individual home sites on the property as well as a communal barn.

In addition to obtaining the easement, Galanis worked to restore more than 100 acres of native wetlands along the shores of Hebgen Lake. He constructed a rustic marina on the property in 2009, complete with a pavilion, boat ramp and slips, for the use of YRP guests and future residents. Guests currently stay in the restored Whiskey Jug cabin, a three-bedroom home on the south edge of the property.

Having completed his mission to preserve the land, Galanis is working with listing agent L&K Real Estate to find the next YRP steward.

Since YRP is under a conservation easement, the future owner will work with GVLT to honor the vision of the property and abide by the terms of the agreement. “The conservation easement is another layer a potential buyer needs to consider,” said GVLT Executive Director Penelope Pierce. “We try to meet with potential buyers so they understand the easement. It doesn’t have to be an impediment.”

The YRP was originally established in the early 1920s by way of a federal land patent, and operated as a guest ranch until 1959 when the land changed hands. The new owners grazed livestock on the property for nearly 50 years until Galanis purchased it.

The YRP offers a distinct combination of conservation and mountain living. The next owner will have a number of land-use opportunities while continuing to preserve this unique habitat.

Whether this new owner wishes to keep the property as a private sanctuary or develop additional home sites, the easement guarantees that future owners will experience a wildlife preserve in perpetuity.