When Kila resident Valerie Beebe bought her house in 2003 she wasn't thinking much about benefiting future generations.
Ten years later, though, that's exactly what she has done with her Birdsong Tree Farm, turning the original three-acre homesite into 28 acres of protected forest.
“I fell in love with the beauty of the forest,” Beebe said. “The land borders the federally protected 1,100-acre Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area. “It started with the original three acres, but the next year 25 acres became available and I snapped it up.”
While Beebe loved her new wooded acreage, she wanted to make it a healthy and productive home for wildlife. Never having owned a forest before, she began taking courses through the Montana State University Extension Forestry program to research her options.
“I decided to take one of their $45 courses, and I fell in love with it,” Beebe said. “I work in pediatrics and I'm a nurse practitioner; I knew nothing about stewarding land. I was amazed at how many opportunities there are for people who are just like me. I took one course for the logger and one for the landowner, and through these programs, I developed a forest stewardship plan.”
That plan has involved forest fuel reduction for her residence, noxious weed control and planting more than 1,000 native trees and shrubs. There are now 40 bird boxes on the property, and in the summer a local apiary puts 16 hives on the land.
“I get 30 pounds of honey out of that deal, so I'm pretty happy about it,” Beebe said. “And my neighbor has domestic cherry trees, and is so thrilled by having the bees here. The first year they were here, he had his best cherry crop ever, and it's been the same every year.”
Beebe documented the years of work and conservation and after the first two years the land qualified for certification with the American Tree Farm System and conservation grants through the United States Department of Agriculture Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
“I use the grant money to help plant more trees and control noxious weeds,” Beebe said. “There were areas of browse damage [from wildlife] that caused the forest to not regenerate, so I've been fixing that. I value the land's uniqueness and its mature stands of Douglas fir and ponderosa.”
In December 2011 Beebe partnered with the Flathead Land Trust to create the Beebe Conservation Easement, dedicated to the memory of Valerie's parents, Ray and Lorraine.
“I had spent seven or eight years trying to restore the land to a natural state and the last thing I wanted was to see it cut up and developed if I sold it,” Beebe said. “This protects the forest land rather than limits it, and it's a very important wildlife corridor.”
The conservation easement prohibits the construction of any structures or roads on the property and will protect the forest in its natural state in perpetuity. Although much of the land has been restored to its natural state, Beebe said she has more plans for the future.
“I am hoping to start doing educational programs, possibly for school children,” Beebe said. “I think it would be interesting to involve them with the bird boxes and planting trees.”
It's not just children Beebe is hoping to help. She is enthusiastic about spreading the word when it comes to conservation practices.
“I'm happy to answer questions,” Beebe said. “I think it's important to let people know about the Flathead Land Trust and Montana Land Reliance. Understanding what a conservation easement is, is important. It's one of the biggest gifts you can give to yourself, your family and your community.”
Reporter Melissa Walther may be reached at 758-4474 or by email at email@example.com.