Landscape Stewardship Awards - 2020

Pictured from Left to Right: Kelli French (Phillips County Proud, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA)), Conni French (RSA Past Vice President), Vicki Olson (RSA Treasurer), Dale Veseth (RSA Vice President), Leo Barthelmess (RSA President), Sheila Walsh (RSA Secretary), Tyler Bain (BLM Rangeland Management Specialist, Malta Field Office), Tom Darrington (BLM Malta Field Office Manager), Richard Hopkins (PLF State Representative for Montana).

The Public Lands Foundation (PLF) presents the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA), with its 2020 Landscape Stewardship Award and this Citation. The PLF grants this recognition to honor private citizens and organizations that work to advance and sustain community-based stewardship on landscapes that include, in whole or in part, public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The RSA includes local ranchers as well as specialists from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Foundation, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Pheasants Forever, World Wildlife Fund, and Ducks Unlimited.

The RSA was recently the recipient of a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Western Big Game Migration Grant. This grant was co-funded by BLM. The project is funding targeted habitat restoration and enhancement projects to benefit big game winter habitat and migration corridors in north-central Montana.

The RSA is currently implementing on-the-ground projects within priority areas that include seeding over 1,400 acres of croplands to native plant species, improving grazing systems on over 11,500 acres, and converting over 15 miles of fence to be wildlife friendly.

The NFWF Big Game grant is just the latest in a long list of grant funding. Since 2017, RSA has received over $1.2 million in grants and has leveraged much more in matching funds from other organizations for on-the-ground conservation projects in north-central Montana. They have also sponsored and hosted numerous educational and informational tours and workshops to share and promote sustainable ranching practices and conservation programs. Sustainability would not be possible without including the public lands that surround and, in most cases, incorporate most north-central Montana ranch operations.

Because such a large portion of the native range in north-central Montana is under private ownership, it would be impossible for BLM to provide for all the habitat needs of native wildlife without the cooperation of private landowners. RSA has provided a bridge between public and private land managers to learn more about each other’s values, concerns, and available resources. By inviting BLM to participate in the RSA, it has enabled better communication and understanding between BLM and area ranchers as well as other conservation organizations. This has enhanced working relationships in ways that promote larger landscape-level projects and has made the associated processes more efficient.

RSA has set an example of leadership, cooperation and community involvement that has inspired other ranching communities to develop their own landscape-level stewardship groups who also work with conservation and public land organizations to implement projects across private and public lands. The types of conservation projects promoted by RSA align with BLM goals and include: installation of fence modifications to allow migrating pronghorn to pass through; marking fences to reduce sage-grouse collisions; voluntary retention of prairie dog colonies; wetland retention and restoration and native grassland restoration; control of noxious weeds and non-native grasses; and implementation of grazing systems to improve rangeland cover for nesting grouse and songbirds.

The Public Lands Foundation is pleased to present the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, with its 2020 Landscape Stewardship Award and this Citation for invaluable contributions to the stewardship of America’s public landscapes.

Edward Shepard
September 18, 2020