Friend of the Madison Award 2012!

MRF Honors the Laszlo Family and Granger Ranches for the O’Dell Creek Headwaters Restoration Project
The Foundation has named the Laszlo family, owners of the Granger Ranches, as recipient of the organization’s 2012 Friend of the Madison Award. The award will be presented at the Foundation’s annual “Guardians of the River” Gala Banquet held June 23 at the Lodge at Sun Ranch, Cameron, MT.

The award is presented annually to recognize organizations or individuals who have made significant contributions that advance the Foundation’s mission to preserve, protect and enhance the Madison River ecosystem.
The Laszlo family is being recognized for the O’Dell Creek Headwaters Restoration Project and their conservation efforts along the Madison River. Along with their project’s partners, the Laszlos have undertaken the largest wetland restoration effort in the state of Montana, which includes the rehabilitation of O’Dell Creek, a major tributary of the Madison River.

In the photo above, Jeff Laszlo points out some of the features of the O’Dell Creek project to Foundation directors Jeff Montag (left) and David Bricker.

In the 1950s the O’Dell headwaters were drained with large excavated canals for the purpose of expanding agricultural operations. This was a common practice of that time and in fact was assisted by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. Since 2004 the restoration project has removed 16,000 feet of drainage canals, restored or created 35,000 feet of stream channel and re-established the historic water table, restoring more than 500 acres of wetlands. This has resulted in dramatic habitat improvements for fish, birds, vegetation and large mammals. In addition, the Laszlo family has placed more than 8,000 acres into conservation easements to permanently protect the restoration area and its surrounding ranchlands.

O’Dell Creek is a major tributary of the Madison River. Located upriver of the town of Ennis, this spring-fed creek is an important spawning channel for rainbow and brown trout, as well as an important and substantial source of cool water entering the main stem of the Madison River. Stream monitoring has shown O’Dell Creek has been significantly cooled and its flows increased as a direct result of the O’Dell Creek Headwaters Restoration Project. Other important benefits include increased spawning and rearing habitat for juvenile fish, increased usage by avian species and a remarkable re-colonization by important native vegetation.

The O’Dell Creek Project is part of the Laszlo family’s broader vision for sustainable cattle ranching, preservation of open space and the protection of critical habitat for fish and wildlife. In this regard, the Granger Ranches also has entered into a 10-year project with the Madison River Foundation to install seasonal riparian fencing along more than seven miles of the Madison from Varney Bridge north. This project, now in its third season, is intended to restore and protect the river banks and riparian vegetation along the Madison, keep livestock from wandering across the river, improve pasturage through a rotational grazing plan and the development of off-river livestock watering systems.

In 2010 the Granger Ranches received one of six National Wetlands Awards from the Environmental Law Institute recognizing the family’s exemplary stewardship of their land. Partners in the O’Dell Restoration Project include PPL Montana, Trust for Public Land, Montana Land Reliance, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Montana Natural Heritage Program, the University of Montana Avian Science Center, the Madison River Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the Longhorn Ranch, and numerous private donors.

By bringing together these wide-ranging private and public entities a model has been established for resource improvement and protection that has included acreage enrollment in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. CREP is a unique program designed to assist landowners in the protection and enhancement of riparian areas along 524 miles of the Madison and Missouri Rivers.

As family member Jeff Laszlo is fond of noting, the Granger Ranches entered into this daunting undertaking with little more than faith in the basic premise that a stream is better than a ditch. The talents, knowledge and commitment of the project’s many partners have continually taken the work to new and outstanding levels.

The Laszlo family is steadfast in its desire to continue this landscape scale effort and is currently in the midst of “Phase 7” to restore another two miles of O’Dell and its associated wetlands. In addition to the direct benefits for the Madison River ecosystem, the Laszlo family has generously made the project area available for a variety of educational opportunities, including field trips for school children and meetings for conservation groups and resource professionals. The family has regularly hosted Project Healing Waters which brings injured veterans to Montana for recreation and therapy. Last year one of these veterans proclaimed his day on the Granger Ranches, “One of the best days of my life.”

Past recipients of the Friend of the Madison award include Bruce Belles, President of ClackaCraft Drift Boats, Clackamas, OR; Craig and Jackie Mathews of Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone; Robert and Annie Graham of Elk Meadows Ranch, Cameron; First Madison Valley Bank, Ennis; and retired FWP biologist Richard “Dick” Vincent, Toston, MT.