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Montana Ag Network: Conserving open spaces and agriculture

Posted at 9:27 PM, Oct 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-10 23:27:17-04

The Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance (RVSA) was formed by ranchers and conservationists who recognize family ranches play an essential role in public land stewardship and conservation of open space. The alliance recently held a public tour near Twin Bridges to share how agriculture and conservation go hand in hand.

For years, agriculture and conservation groups have not seen eye to eye. The goal of the alliance is to provide positive dialogue on shared interests and common goals to enable the group to aim for better stewardship of the Ruby Valley.

“Ten years ago, these groups would not have been talking with ranchers,” said rancher Rick Sandru, a member of the Ruby Valley Stock Users Association and the alliance. “The fact that they’re not only talking with the ranchers, but we are actively looking for ways to work together makes me feel like all the time we’ve put into this effort is very worthwhile.”

The RVSA is made up of the following organizations: Ruby Valley Stock Users Association, Ruby Valley Conservation District and Watershed Council, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the Ruby Habitat Foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy, the Montana Wilderness Association and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and many more.

The alliance believes in the importance of understanding each other’s perspectives and values and finding common ground to meet the goals of keeping open spaces open and agriculture viable.

“The first thing I would say to someone is, you don’t know what you don’t know,” said Darcie Warden with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “I came into this work listening to the ranchers. I wanted to know and understand from them what the realities are like and what their operations are like.  What are the challenges that they face, how do they overcome those challenges and what ways can we work with them to help them meet those challenges.”

Warden added that there is a lot of misinformation about private and public lands ranching.

“I’m able to take information back to my organization and our membership and share facts with them so we can dispel and eliminate that message of public ranching is a bad thing or that there’s welfare ranching. That’s not the reality out here. So I’m helping to get that message out, and the ranchers are helping us at the same time maintain conservation gains out here,” Warden said.

The group also shared with attendees the role that ranching plays in maintaining healthy wildlife populations.

“Wildlife conservation is dependent on open spaces which include both private and public lands,” said Mark Deleray the  Region 3 supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “If you don’t have both pieces, because of the seasonality of animal use of these lands, then we won’t have the animal herds we have. For us to be successful in conserving Montana’s wildlife resources, we need private land partners and public land partners to be able to achieve that.”

“In the Ruby Valley, the vast majority of open space is tied directly to federal grazing leases,” said Sandru. “If ranches lose those federal grazing privileges, the lands on the valley floor will likely not be a viable operation, and many of them will be either sold to out-of-state people for a place to vacation that will be locked up. The locals won’t hunt, they won’t fish. The land could possibly be subdivided. With the open space comes the wildlife corridors, the amazing wildlife habitat and huge wildlife populations that we all enjoy today.”

The alliance believes that by creating dialogue and having open minds, different groups can come together to ensure that agriculture and open spaces are conserved for generations to come.

Story by Lane Nordlund, MTN News