Hall and Hall Sponsors Big Sky PBR

Last Saturday, Hall and Hall played sponsor to the Big Sky PBR, arguably the biggest event in the Big Sky Resort.  The toughest bull riders in the world were matched with the meanest bulls to see who comes out on top, and who ends up in the dirt.  The bulls were victorious once again this year in a series of exciting matchups.

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This year, Hall and Hall teamed up with Yeti as corporate sponsors.  This provided VIP access and seating in a reserved platform near the ground level of the arena.  We took the opportunity to promote our friend Micah Fink who founded a non-profit program called Heroes and Horses.   This program was conceived to reintegrate our returning veteran soldiers into “normal” society through a three-phase program designed to inspire personal growth in veterans suffering from the mental and physical scars of war.  Uniquely, this program combines the utilization of the backcountry wilderness of Montana and horses to help these soldiers push through their trauma and find purpose in life again.  This is without a doubt, one of the most impacting and effective programs we have seen or heard about.  These are incredible people and we felt it was our turn to serve them.

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Our guests included Micah Fink and Rick Franco who served in the military special forces and were involved in special operations and overseas projects for nearly two decades.  It was also a privilege to have had Kris and Gayle Coleman from REDFIVE Security who traveled from Virginia to join us and help promote our friends at Heroes and Horses. Kris and Gayle offer security solutions on a global level to high profile individuals in need.  We were also joined by a congenial group of friends and ranch clients who drove down from the Yellowstone Club.  The rodeo venue is spectacular and the weather was near perfect for the large sold-out crowd.  It is easy to see why this has become the #1 rated PBR in the country.

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Maintaining & Protecting Your Water Rights

By:  Deborah Stephenson and Stephen R. Brown

This article is the second in a continuing series regarding water in the western United States. This edition focuses on operational and administrative practices that can help maintain your water rights by first ensuring that all filings and administrative reporting requirements are up to date, and secondly, by keeping your rights active to protect them from abandonment.

The initial registration and ongoing reporting requirements for your water rights vary from state to state and by type of water entitlement. For example, in most western states small water users can be exempt from a lengthy permitting process. This instance is commonly referred to as an “exempt filing.” However, water users are still typically required to register these small water uses with the state or local groundwater management agency. Another example is that certain types of water certificates, permits, and change authorizations may have annual reporting requirements related to the permit holders’ annual water diversions. Other reporting requirements call for weekly monitoring of the physical flow rates in the source of supply to ensure that pre-existing water rights are met before any new permit is utilized.

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Other examples of both water use registration and subsequent reporting requirements are found in Texas and California. In Texas, the state water planning process, originating in the mid-1950s, created regional planning areas and smaller groundwater conservation districts (GCDs) within the regional planning areas. There are no statewide requirements for registration or reporting of groundwater use. Instead, the local GCDs are tasked with creating groundwater management goals and then implementing groundwater registration and reporting requirements to achieve the GCDs’ goals. Because each GCD approaches these tasks differently, it is important to be involved with your local GCD to ensure that all groundwater uses are properly registered and reported each year.

In 2014, California passed new legislation regarding groundwater use called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Within certain high and medium priority basins, SGMA requires governments and water agencies to halt overdraft and bring groundwater basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge. To implement SGMA, local agencies formed Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) in 2017. The GSAs are now working to define safe-yields and allowable groundwater withdrawals within their local areas and work towards adopting Groundwater Sustainability Plans.  Through this planning process, the allocation of the rights to withdraw groundwater will be defined within each GSA. Thus, being aware of and engaging in the GSA process could be vital to protecting and defining your groundwater rights.

In addition to the administrative filings described above, there are active adjudication processes occurring throughout Montana, northern Idaho, parts of New Mexico, and countless other areas across the western United States. At a high-level, adjudication means inventorying, investigating, and defining the rights to use water within a geographic area through the courts. Although the specific rules and procedures vary from state to state, adjudications typically involve a district or water court, the state engineer’s office, and water users throughout the basin. Within the adjudication process there are court-ordered deadlines to initially file on your water use. Once filed, there are ongoing deadlines throughout the adjudication process. Missing any of these deadlines can be fatal to the preservation and adjudication of your water rights.

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In addition to ensuring that your water right is properly filed and defined through adjudication, it is also important to continue the “beneficial use” of your water. As described in our previous article for this publication, water rights in the western United States are subject to the Doctrine of Abandonment, commonly referred to as “use it or lose it.”  While details vary from state to state, each prior appropriation state recognizes some form of the concept that, if water is not put to “beneficial use” for a certain period of time, the right to that water will be considered abandoned or forfeited.  Abandonment and forfeitures rules and regulations are intended to assure that water rights, a right to a valuable public resource, are not held for speculative purposes without being put to beneficial use.

Generally speaking, under the laws of prior appropriation states’ non-use alone does not cause a water right to be abandoned. “Intent” to abandon is also required. However, intent to abandon can be presumed after a long period of non-use. While some states allow for automatic abandonment after a period of time (also called “forfeiture”), most states require a court or administrative proceeding before abandonment occurs. However, long periods of non-use can shift the burden to a water right’s owner to demonstrate that there was no intent to abandon, which can be difficult to prove in a court or administrative proceeding.

A variety of actions can be used to show lack of intent to abandon a water right. The simplest protection is simply to use them when water is available in priority and can be put to beneficial use. For example, if you have an irrigation right, irrigate. If you have stock rights, watering livestock will keep the rights active. Using your rights will usually require maintenance of infrastructure such as diversionary headgates, cleaning out conveyance ditches, and repairing pumps and pipelines. Any of these activities and many others can be used to show lack of intent to abandon a water right. In contrast, one of the tell-tale signs of non-use and potential abandonment is a lack of working infrastructure. If infrastructure such as conveyance ditches have not been maintained and used for an extended period of time, this nonuse can be used to show abandonment of the water right. However, there may be other considerations to think through when putting water rights back into use after a long period of non-use, such as ditch easements.

Using your rights could also mean enforcing them against other users on the source. A senior water right holder has the right to make calls on junior water right holders on the same stream. This authority may also mean ensuring you use your rights at least periodically throughout the entire period of diversion. The need to utilize your rights each year and/or enforce your rights against other users on the source is very site specific, and in some circumstances, it may not be required to use water rights every year as long as they are used periodically when water is available.

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In addition to using your rights, measuring and documenting your use can be important.  If a water right is junior and water is not available, that fact should be documented by keeping records and photographs because lack of water can be a viable defense in an abandonment proceeding. If you have a recreational water right, you may want to document your enjoyment of the water resource by taking pictures. Or if you have a water right for fisheries use, you may want to hire a biologist to assess the fish population in your pond on a regular basis. With irrigation rights, installing a flume with a staff gauge in your ditch and then regularly measuring your diversions is a simple way to document your water use. Collecting and preserving your water use data can be important in defending your rights from claims of abandonment or forfeiture.

If you find that your operation has changed over the years and you no longer need your full water right, various options exist for protecting, preserving, and obtaining value for your “excess” water.  Perhaps you installed a pivot or drip irrigation system, thereby reducing your diversionary needs, or maybe there is a change regarding land usage which makes it difficult to utilize the full water right. Administrative options may include a change application to protect the reduced diversionary water as instream flow or it might be possible to change the place of use to another location and/or even change the type of use itself. Keep in mind, a change application may be limited to the actual and historic beneficial use. Therefore the “excess” water you are hoping to change must have been part of what was utilized historically in the operation.

Market-based opportunities may also exist, enabling water right holders to obtain value for their water assets. For example, within the Arizona Active Management Areas, if you have a certain type of groundwater right that you do not need, you can extinguish the groundwater right and turn it into an Extinguishment Credit (EC). The ECs can then be sold to and/or used by a municipal water provider to reduce groundwater usage fees. This process avoids annual reporting requirements for the groundwater right holder and enables them to obtain monetary compensation for their valuable rights.

In Summary

These water use registration and annual reporting processes, especially court led adjudications, vary tremendously based on your location and type of water use. The opportunity to register your water use and define your rights may only occur once and could be a definitive determination of the extent of your water rights. Understanding the site-specific rules, regulations, and deadlines is important.  Once you have registered and defined your rights to use water, it is important to follow the general steps described above to keep your rights active. The hard truth is once a water right is determined to be abandoned, the right is lost forever. Our best advice to water right owners is to keep good records, open your mail, respond to notices you receive, and seek help when you are too busy or unaware of what filings are necessary.

Circle 9 Spring Creek Ranch Profiled by The Wall Street Journal

We are thrilled that The Wall Street Journal profiled Circle 9 Spring Creek Ranch as a “House of the Day.” Resting in the shadows of the rugged Tobacco Root and Highland Mountains in the historic and lush Jefferson River valley, the ranch offers gorgeous scenery and miles of river and restored spring creek fishing, as well as productive pivot-irrigated farmland.

An excerpt from the story reads:  “Terry McClinch bought this 714-acre ranch in Silver Star, Mont., because he could see the potential. ‘I think it’s Montana at its best—the perfect combination of recreational and traditional ranching,’ says Mr. McClinch, adding that the property let him combine his love of fishing and hunting with his interests in agriculture and cattle.”

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Great Father’s Day Message from Our Friends at Stetson

With Father’s Day around the corner, it is our pleasure to share this post from Stetson. Our relationship with the Tom and Robin Green has evolved from prospect to client to close friends. This post represents what we wish for all our clients…a place for family with all the experiences that it entails.

Father’s Day in Bozeman, Montana – by Courtney Green

There is a humility and resilience developed through hard work. I grew up on a farm in northern Michigan watching my parents work tirelessly to build a life and keep our farm running. I remember when I was very little, walking out of my bedroom before dawn in the early Spring, and often seeing a new calf laying in the middle of the kitchen floor. The snow in the upper peninsula of Michigan makes Spring calving quite challenging, so if they needed help, the babies often ended up in the house to stay warm.

When your childhood starts that way, it is nearly impossible not to grow up with a certain respect, work ethic, and compassion for animals and the land on which they are raised.

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You grow up learning that you always do what needs to get done. That’s it. You do it, and you do it with respect, honesty, and not a little work ethic.
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We now live in Montana, not far from my parents working ranch just outside of Bozeman. My children have the opportunity to grow up hearing stories and learning life lessons that you don’t learn in school, and can’t be found on an ipad.
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There is a reverence and an appreciation for this place, cultivated through working hard and caring deeply for the animals and the land. They follow my dad everywhere on the ranch… on foot or horseback, fixing the fence, checking cattle, caring for horses, and of course, sneaking in time to play too. They are learning lessons and creating memories that run deeper than they know.
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Happy Fathers Day to all of the wonderful Fathers and Grandfathers out there. Especially mine.
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While Most Montana Rivers are Blown Out, Circle 9 Spring Creek Ranch is Fishing Like a Dream

This is a very dynamic time of year to fish Montana waters. Conditions can change by the day and even by the hour as flows are a huge part of the late spring fishing game. Most rivers and streams in the state are completely blown out. In fact, many areas are experiencing flooding.

Beaverhead- The river flows are high so nymph it hard and hold on tight!

Bitterroot/Blackfoot/Clarkfork/Rock Creek: These rivers are in flood stage and it would be better to fish elsewhere.

Gallatin River is not the best option in the area right now. Its running really high and really muddy.

Upper Madison River, with visibility decreasing with every tributary. Cabin and Beaver creeks are pumping mud as well as the west fork. The west fork is adding and extra 1,000 CFS to the river and cranking in mud.

Yellowstone River It has been approaching 20,000 CFS, and becoming to dangerous to float. Flows this big can move trees.

Big Hole river is big and dirty. It may have some flooding in areas over the next month. Best to pick another river.

Boulder River is around 3,000 CFS and rising. The water is dirty and the wading is dangerous.

Stillwater River is pumping a serious amount of water right now and on the rise. It is muddy and unfishable.

However, resting in the shadows of the rugged Tobacco Root and Highland Mountains in the historic and lush Jefferson River valley, lies the Circle 9 Spring Creek Ranch.  It offers gorgeous scenery, miles of river, restored spring creek fishing, and it is currently fishing like a dream. Circle 9 has a private boat launch located on its .75± miles of Jefferson River frontage offering not only good opportunity for sizable browns and rainbows, but also solitude from the flotilla of fishermen found on some of the area’s other rivers. In an idyllic location, the ranch lies just 20 minutes from the town of Twin Bridges where the Jefferson River is formed by the confluence of the Ruby, Beaverhead, and Big Hole Rivers.

Springtime in the Rockies

By: Cody Lujan

Spring is perhaps one of the best times of the year to view wildlife on Colorado mountain ranches and retreats. While the closing of ski area lifts and the receding of snow brings a short window of calm and quiet to communities throughout the Rockies, the region’s wildlife is awake and on the move.  The warming and greening of valleys and mountain slopes brings an influx of animals migrating to spring and summer grounds as well as the awakening of hibernating denizens.

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Elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn are migrating back to their calving grounds and seemingly following the snow line as it draws higher into the backcountry. These animals are active throughout the day during this time of year and can be found grazing and browsing in the open. Similarly, the raptor, song bird, and water fowl migration is in full swing with birds arriving daily.

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Along with the opportunity to see a ranch without snow or tall grass covering the ground, spring affords the opportunity to enjoy the spring turkey “rut”.

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If you’re looking for a quiet time of the year to get a good of lay of the land as well as to check out the wildlife on a specific property, springtime can often be the best time.

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