Some of the most progressive and important conservation work in the country is going on right out my backdoor in Montana’s Madison Valley, courtesy of a landowner who loves fish and wildlife, a person who put together a significant team to save his wetands. And in the process, he just may bolster the Madison River’s trout population.
That champion landowner is Jeff Laszlo and the property he’s caring for is Granger Ranches, including O’Dell Creek Ranch. O’Dell Creek is an amazing spring creek that feeds the Madison River, just upstream from Ennis Lake. I was fortunate to fish with Laszlo last fall, on a beautiful, crisp October day. We plied O’Dell and picked up a few fish and I learned how dedicated to the land Lazlo is. For his efforts, and the efforts of his family, the Lazlo’s will receive the National Welands Award for Landowner Steward. The presentation will take place May 19 in Washington D.C. Following is a press release on the award and it’s well worth reading. Look for an in-depth story on the Laszlo’s and O’Dell Creek in an upcoming issue of Fly Rod & Reel. I’m putting the piece together now. For now, however, read this release and say thanks to the Laszlos.
(Washington, DC) The Laszlo family of Ennis, Montana will receive the prestigious National Wetlands Award for Landowner Steward at a ceremony on May 19 in Washington, D.C. The family was chosen out of a competitive nationwide field for their dedication and vision to restoring the historic wetlands on their property, Granger Ranches, and protecting more than half of their 14,000-acre ranch in perpetuity.
Working to restore Montana’s natural resources, the Montana Wetland Legacy Partnership (MWLP) approached the Laszlo family in 2004 to begin restoring an 8,000-acre wetland complex in the Madison River floodplain. The Laszlos, who have owned Granger Ranches since the 1930s, signed on, and the results have been astonishing.
“Although they entered the first year of ditch plugging with some trepidation,” said Tom Hinz, the Coordinator for the MWLP, “that work and the associated stream channel development has caused a metamorphosis in front of their eyes that they cannot say enough good things about.” The area had been drained for grass production back in the 1950s, leaving the landscape parched. The effort has filled or plugged 16,000 feet of drainage ditches, thereby restoring more than 500 acres of wetlands and creating 35,000 feet of stream channel and adjacent riparian habitat.
Jeff Laszlo, son of ranch owners Andrew and Anne Laszlo, worked with the MWLP to begin understanding wetland science and the restoration effort by participating in planning and field work conducted on their ranch. Now, after six years, he can explain how many rainbow and brown trout the O’Dell Creek supports, what species of birds have pioneered the area, what wetland plants have colonized the area, and more, according to Hinz. “Jeff could probably direct the continued restoration of the project area.”
“It has been truly wondrous to watch the restoration area roar back to life with rapidly increasing numbers of trout, waterfowl, migratory birds and plant species that have been absent for well over 50 years,” said Jeff Laszlo. “This project has not only been the most rewarding experience of my life, but gives me renewed hope that by working together we can all positively impact our most challenging environmental problems.”
In 2005, there were only 11 species of birds in the area. By 2009, there were 90 species, including 11 species of ducks. A flock of 2,000 Sandhill cranes came to O’Dell Creek for the first time in 2008.
The Laszlo family now sees the restoration work as part of a broader vision that supports sustainable cattle ranching and provides habitat for fish and wildlife. And their commitment is paying dividends by spreading the word. Hundreds of visitors from as far as 2,000 miles away have come to view how wetland restoration and ranching can work together. “I would be hard pressed to find another ranching family that embodies the same vision, enthusiasm, and extraordinary commitment to improving their land and the way it is managed, “said Alexander Diekmann, Senior Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land (TLP).
“Receiving The National Wetland Award is a great honor and recognition of the numerous dedicated partners who have worked for many years to restore 500 acres of wetlands and 7 miles of spring fed stream channels at the headwaters of O’Dell Creek in Montana’s Madison Valley,” said Mr. Laszlo.
The partnership has brought together numerous stakeholders in addition to MWLP and TPL, including: the Montana Land Reliance; Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; Montana Department of Environmental Quality; PPL Montana; U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency; Natural Resources Conservation Service; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer, among others.
“Working with multiple government agencies can be intimidating and daunting, and yet, the Laszlo family has showed remarkable persistence and patience,” said James Stutzman, state coordinator for the Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. “After seeing the results on O’Dell Creek, neighboring landowners are now expressing strong interest in similar restoration projects on their streams and wetlands.”