Day at the ranch: Students take self-guided tour of agricultural property

Stevensville cattle rancher Dan Severson shows a group of Florence High School students a group of new calves on Wednesday during a tour of his family's Flying E Ranch.

DAVID ERICKSON - Ravalli Republic

STEVENSVILLE – Dan Severson loves the land where five generations of his family have made a living raising sheep, cattle and sometimes chickens at their Flying E Ranch on South Burnt Fork Road near Stevensville.

He loves it so much that he worked with the Bitterroot Land Trust to sign a conservation easement two years ago, part of the Ravalli County’s Open Lands Program, that will keep 350 acres of the pastoral ranch looking the way it is for generations to come.

On Wednesday, Severson allowed groups of students to go on self-guided tours of his property as part of Florence-Carlton High School teacher Vanessa Bleibtrey’s Rocky Mountain Ecology class. Bitter Root Land Trust stewardship coordinator Melissa Maggio-Kassner and program administrator Emy Royce also took part in the tour.

Severson said he wanted to teach the youngsters about the importance of taking care of the land.

“All farming is about, no matter if you have livestock or whatever, is just taking care of the soil and growing grass and making sure that you grow it in such a way that it’s better – the soil is better and the grass is better – 100 years from now than it is today,” he said. “What we do to conserve the soil is a lot of intensive grazing, with small little pastures with electric fences. You put the cattle in a small area, and they eat the good stuff, and they eat the bad stuff too. And you just take them off for a long time and let the grass grow back and it’s amazing the things you can do with livestock. The whole thing is just taking care of the ground.”

Royce said that the outing wouldn’t have been possible without the Severson family’s gracious cooperation.

“Dan and his wife Debbie Severson approached the Bitter Root Land Trust when they made the important decision to conserve their working ranch,” she said. “They wanted to keep the ranch in the family, creating a legacy of agricultural sustainability for the future, while honoring the working ranch heritage they come from.”

The students spent the morning walking around the ranch in small groups, taking pictures for a photo contest, and the winners will be featured in the BRLT’s newsletter. Royce said that she couldn’t think of a better way for students to learn about land-use issues than actually walking around a working conservation easement.

“Partnering with valley schools, teachers, and landowners is a great way to reach the public and create awareness of the BRLT mission,” she said. “Our mission is to partner with landowners who voluntarily plan to conserve their land, based on three main conservation values: water, wildlife, and working lands. The land trust upholds the terms of the conservation easement in perpetuity. The conservation easement is a great tool for landowners who want to ensure their vision of open space, wildlife habitat, clean flowing streams or rivers like the Bitterroot River, or their working ranch will remain intact for generations to come.”

Severson took groups of the kids out to the calving pastures, where he let the kids walk up to newborn calfs contentedly munching on hay.

He also took time to instruct the kids on the hydrology of the area.

“This ranch is unique because all of the streams here don’t come straight from the mountains, they come from underground springs,” he said. “There’s lakes up there in the Sapphire Mountains, and the water filters down into the ground and then pops back up in the form of these creeks, and that’s where the water for the town of Stevensville comes from too.”

The point of the trip, Royce said, is to get the kids a dose of fresh air and let them see what working agriculture looks like first-hand.

“The field trip and classroom day is geared toward creating awareness in the community about the Bitter Root Land Trust mission, and giving the students a positive experience with local landowners, neighbors and community members who care so deeply for their land and the future generations who will inherit it,” she said. “The photography portion of the class allowed the students to interact with the landscape, wildlife, and each other and to share their perspective on what conservation means to them.”

The BRLT will be hosting a fundraiser pint-night on June 9 at the Bitter Root Brewery in Hamilton.

Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at


Reporter for the Ravalli Republic.