994182_799102073443970_858726230339738252_nSoon we will select finalists for the 2016 Create & Conserve contest. I thought readers might be interested in learning how we put together the conservation projects. It starts with on-location interviews with the five finalists, where we ask them to share their vision — what they wish to do on their land.

Our goal is to help fulfill a dream for one of those landowners, which is what we did last year for Keith Fortin. He told us, “If I could do anything — if resources were not limited — here is what I would do.” He then described his “blue-sky” vision of constructing a pond utilizing natural springs that flowed through his remote Montana property, together with an irrigated conservation plot to attract and sustain wildlife.

Keith knew where to tap the springs and capture water for a pond, but constructing it would have been daunting, taking years to complete on his own. That challenge excited the Bobcat Create & Conserve team. We relish the idea of wowing the contest winner by doing things they wouldn’t be able to on their own.

The Projects: A Pond and a Plot

Keith had identified what would be our two big Create & Conserve projects: a pond and an irrigated conservation plot. Our challenge was to complete both in less than a week with a handful of machine operators and three semitrailer-loads of Bobcat® equipment. Rick and Julie Kreuter of “Beyond the Hunt” were our conservation partners. We divided up the work between two crews. The Kreuters’ crew — including two Bobcat equipment operators from our office in West Fargo — worked mostly on the pond project, from the day we arrived until wrapping up at the end of the week.

The other team — which I headed — worked on the irrigation system and the conservation plot. It took us a full day to set up a water storage tank, which would be filled from a spring uphill from the plot. Then we used a Bobcat trencher attachment to bury 1,800 feet of irrigation line connecting the tank to the conservation plot. Keith sized the tank large enough to be able to run his sprinklers for hours at a time. Even better, because it was downhill to the plot, the system didn’t need a pump or electricity, as gravity alone provided 80-90 psi of water pressure.

The third day we worked on clearing the area for the conservation plot, then tilled it with the Bobcat tiller and planted it with the seeder. We also thinned out juniper trees behind it so, if a fire were to come through again, the conservation plot wouldn’t burn.

Pond: Start to Finish

Wildfire Provides Construction Material

Constructing a pond required building a dam. Keith had already identified a free source of construction material. A 2012 wildfire had burned through part of his property, leaving a stand of spruce trees that, while dead, were still structurally sound. While one crew excavated the pond, the other crew cut and hauled trees for the dam structure.

In our planning, we debated the necessity of a pond liner (Keith said yes), and whether we would need to divert the spring water during construction (we guessed no). It turns out the 12-foot-deep pond filled faster than we thought it would. That made it challenging to install the heavy EPDM pond liner. We laid four 15-foot-wide sheets, but sinking them to the bottom of the rapidly filling pond was a challenge that took all hands on deck. The plan was coming together.

Selecting the Right Machines and Attachments

How do we know which machines and attachments are required? From our initial site visit to Keith’s property, we knew the projects we would tackle. We then identified the ideal machine fleet, knowing we would have four operators needing to keep busy. We knew only one excavator could work on the pond, so we brought a Bobcat E55. Because we were going to do a lot of dirt work, we brought two Bobcat track loaders; a T770 and a T870, plus a 5610 Toolcat work machine for the conservation plot.

Because of the size of the site, we needed four utility vehicles to transport the video production crew and workers around the property. We limited ourselves to three semis to haul the equipment from North Dakota, but because access to Keith Fortin’s property was limited, the semis had to park a mile and a half away.

For attachments, we knew we would be thinning out some junipers, so we brought along a Bobcat forestry cutter, which is ideal for that job. We were going cut and transport dead spruce trees to build a dam, so we brought a grapple for the loader and a clamp for the excavator to place the logs in the dam. For the conservation plot, we used the Bobcat tiller and seeder attachments — ideal tasks for the Toolcat machine. Finally, we utilized a Bobcat trencher attachment, which made quick work of installing 1,800 feet of irrigation line.

Memorable Moment — Starting the Sprinklers

For me, the most memorable moment was the last day when we turned on the sprinkler system, signaling the completion of the project. It was the first time we could really enjoy the fruit of our labor. Honestly, it’s fun to get away from the daily grind for a week, but the real fulfillment is having the support of Bobcat Company for these conservation efforts and seeing our team come together to fulfill Keith Fortin’s dream.

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