Conservation is a word that is heard on a pretty regular basis these days. But before it was even a common term, ranchers were already practicing conservation of the land. Ranchers were the pioneers of conservation. They had to be in order to preserve the land that they lived and worked on to ensure that they could survive. If they had not started this practice of preserving the land years ago, many of the ranches that have been in the same family for generations, would not be viable operations today. In addition, another idea that has helped ranches and ranchers survive the generations is creating partnerships, not only with other workers on the ranch and other ranchers, but those in the community, the state and on a national level. Both of these are common themes among ranchers that are involved in the Rangelands Resource Program.
The Rangeland Resources Program, which was established in Montana law in 1979, provides opportunities to bring together people to learn from one another and collaborate on common goals regarding rangeland. The purpose of the program is to establish the importance of Montana's rangeland with respect to livestock, forage, wildlife habitat, high-quality water production, pollution control, erosion control, recreation, and the natural beauty of the state. In addition, the program creates cooperation and coordination of range-management activities between individuals and organizations in charge of the management of rangeland, whether private or public. Guided by an appointed committee of ranchers from across Montana, it serves as a credible source of unbiased, trusted, honest, and non-political information. Open to anyone who cares about rangeland, the program focuses on building relationships with diverse groups, and shares perspectives and ideas while creating positive relationships proactively working together with other groups.
Consequently, those who are doing exceptional work in range management receive appropriate recognition. One source of recognition is presented through The Leopold Conservation Award Program, which recognizes agricultural landowners actively committed to preservation of the land. Sand County Foundation, which instituted the Leopold Award, is a non-profit private land conservation organization founded in 1965 in Madison, Wisconsin, inspired by world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. Working with prominent state conservation partners, Sand County Foundation presents the prestigious honor, which consists of $10,000 and a crystal award.
Since 2003, the Leopold Conservation Award has been presented to over 100 families in 21 states. This past year, 2019, was the first year that the Leopold Award was presented in Montana. Bill and Dana Milton from Roundup were the proud recipients. The selection committee consists of ten individuals from Stakeholders groups, industry, academia and government. This year, the 2020 winner will be presented at the Montana Range Tour in Malta. The 2019 winner will host a ranch tour and dinner June 25th and 26th in the Roundup area. The award relies on sponsorships and contributions from industry, private, government and NGO’s for continuation.
To learn more about Montana’s Rangeland Resources Program take a look at their website (http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/cardd/conservation-districts/rangeland-resource-program). Also, take a look at the videos below to learn directly from some Montana ranching families how they have benefited from working directly with the program.