Chi Melville closeup

Retired Alta resident Chi Melville has gone all-in on transforming his home and 10-acre yard into a sustainable place for humans and wildlife to live. Here he leans into his homemade bear-friendly bird feeder, which built to comply with Teton County regulations that require feeders be hung 10 feet high and 6 feet out.

When Chi Melville bought a 10-acre spread a few miles north of Alta 33 years ago, it wasn’t much more than an old cow pasture choked by some nonnative smooth brome grass.

Today there’s a net-zero-energy home on a site that’s an ecologically flourishing chunk of real estate. Native plants have retaken hold of the landscape. Groves of aspen trees have returned naturally, and, assisted by Melville, 100 or so lodgepole pine salvaged from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest have done the same.

The retired IT consultant made a trade to reestablish sagebrush and native grasses on his land: Intermountain Aquatics planted the natives in exchange for helping them set up a new server.

An array of wildlife, in turn, have become his welcome neighbors. There’s moose, elk, deer, coyotes, a host of songbird species and even occasional visitors like black bears and pine martens.

Melville and his wife, Rene, also now produce all the power they need to live on their own premises. A new 18-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic solar array generates electricity that exceeds what they use themselves annually.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” Melville said while touring his property last week. “It’s working really well. I still get a kick out of turning on the microwave, and knowing that it’s coming from the panels.”

They’ve also electrified most everything that they can, down to the household chainsaw, in order to cut down on their consumption of petroleum-based products.

It’s been a huge investment of sweat equity and funds, Melville admits, to transform the property to such an extreme degree. Yet he relishes time he spends stewarding the old westslope Tetons cow pasture that’s now such an ecologically vibrant and environmentally friendly place to live.

“It takes most of my time,” Melville said. “It’s my new job: habitat restoration and refuge manager. We call this Silver Springs Refuge.”

Melville has been a part of the greater Teton Valley community for going on 42 years. But his earliest days were spent in Idaho’s version of a metropolitan area. Dad’s corporate job at Boise Cascade, the lumber products business, kept the Melvilles living near the west-central Idaho capital city. The family spent some weekends camping in then-quiet places like Redfish Lakes, but they also weren’t particularly outdoorsy.

Chi, however, had a strong personal liking for outdoor recreation. 

Read the full story in this week's edition of the News&Guide, on newsstands now. Subscribe for just $1 a week and support community journalism. 

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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