On October 19, 2012 our class headed to Ovando, MT to learn about cooperative conservation from the Blackfoot Challenge. After a few unfortunate events, locking the car with the keys inside and one group having to stop and get gas, we all finally made it. At Ovando we met up with Jim Stone, chair of the Blackfoot Challenge and owner of Rolling Stone Ranch. He was kind enough to spend the day with us, and we all went into a building to get out of the rain. Jim started by telling us a little about his family (like his Great-Great Grandfather starting Journalism at UM!) and that his family has always been in the ranching business. Even though Jim graduated from MSU, we were still very interested in what he could tell us about the Blackfoot Challenge.
The Challenge consists of a twenty member board and they meet once a month. Jim emphasized the fact that they try to bring everyone to the table, and not leave out the people they know will disagree. He said the Challenge is more about bringing people together, and it is more knowledge and understanding based than decision based. They don’t like to make decisions because they want trust from their neighbors and don’t want to be seen as a “green group” or a bunch of hicks either. Along with the board they have committees, for things like timber, water, education, strategies, weeds, etc. They involve partners, work groups, and over 500 landowners. Jim said the biggest thing about the Challenge is to involve everyone and maintain open communication. They exercise the 80/20 rule-when you come to a meeting you take off your rancher or miner hat, and talk about the 80% of things you can agree on. Jim says his biggest benefit from being involved is the knowledge he gains from the people he meets, gaining contacts, and networking.
After this talk, we headed over to land that used to be owned by Plum Creek Timber Company. When Plum Creek owned it, the land was open to recreation and other uses. Residents wanted to maintain this public access when the land went up for sale. The Nature Conservancy of Montana contributed to this project by buying 14,000 acres, and total purchased land for the project was nearly 70,000 acres. This is a great example of the Challenge’s dedication to the goal of protecting the rural character of the valley, through cooperative conservation.