If you’re a Montanan, there is a great chance that you have spent some of — if not an abundance of — your free time hunting, fishing, camping, or otherwise participating in the unmatched outdoor experiences that our iconic public lands provide. It’s what makes Big Sky Country such a unique place and why Montanans have a love for the outdoors practically from birth.
This isn’t just hyperbole. A new report we just released shows that outdoor recreation in Beaverhead County is a massive economic driver, generating more than $167 million each year for Montana’s economy while creating over 1,400 jobs — many of which are located in the county. As the report notes, this “is a sizable contribution to the local workforce, given that just over 9,000 people live in Beaverhead County.”
Conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana (BBER) on behalf of the Montana Wildlife Federation, this report is an important addition to the ongoing discussions about how we manage our treasured public lands. Do we embrace the value of hunting, angling, and outdoor recreation by taking steps to conserve and restore sensitive fish and wildlife habitats? Or do we open up these lands to incompatible development, in spite of their importance for outdoor recreation and fish and wildlife?
Much of the hunting and angling that occurs in Beaverhead County takes place on federal public lands — which is why it’s so worrisome that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) management plan for these lands is more than 15 years old and does not reflect the importance of hunting and fishing to local residents and business owners.
In fact, this outdated plan allows oil and gas drilling to take place on more than 1.2 million acres of public land managed by BLM’s Dillon Field Office, despite BLM itself saying nearly all of these lands lack any significant potential for oil and gas development. This means when these lands are leased to oil and gas companies, they tend to just sit there — producing next to nothing for Montana’s taxpayers.
Even though Beaverhead County is not a prime spot for drilling, it is still threatened by oil and gas activity. On two separate occasions over the past few years, oil and gas companies have tried to lease federal lands in areas with sensitive fish, wildlife, and water resources. And, an oil and gas company is currently seeking permission to drill on federal lands in the Tendoy Mountains — an area of irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat.
So what can be done? The Biden administration has made protecting public lands and the communities that use them a priority from day one. To continue that commitment, the administration should rethink its management approach for Beaverhead County and surrounding public lands that harbor sensitive fish, wildlife, and water values, so that it actually supports local communities that rely heavily on revenues from outdoor recreation and ensures that future generations of hunters and anglers can enjoy the same outdoor opportunities that we enjoy today.
You can view MWF’s new report, Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation in Beaverhead County by clicking HERE.
Senator Jon Tester has signed onto a bipartisan wildlife conservation bill, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, that will dedicate $1.4 billion annually to locally-led efforts to help at-risk wildlife species nationwide.
“The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act represents a substantial investment in protecting Montana’s wildlife,” said Eric Clewis, field coordinator for the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Some of Montana’s most iconic species are declining and this bipartisan bill will take great strides towards preventing these species from becoming endangered. We applaud Senator Tester for continuing to stand up for Montana’s wildlife and wild places.”
The bill will send $27.7M million to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks which the agency will use to implement its wildlife action plan. More than one hundred species would benefit – including Arctic grayling, trumpeter swans and sage grouse. The money would also go to support wildlife associated recreation and would build on existing cooperative conservation partnerships with private landowners, agricultural producers and other major contributors to the economy in Montana.
“Saving the thousands of at-risk wildlife species will require bold, bipartisan leadership and unprecedented collaboration,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We are so grateful to Senator Tester for leading the way on the historic Recovering America’s Wildlife Act that will have an immediate impact – saving species and creating jobs in Montana and all across the country.”
The bill will also provide $97.5 million annually to fund wildlife conservation efforts on tribal lands nationwide, which would benefit Montana’s eight Tribal Nations.
“Montana hunters and anglers have a special appreciation of the hard work, committed efforts and, critically, robust and vital funding required to keep our fish and wildlife populations healthy,” said John Sullivan, chair of the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Senator Tester has consistently championed Montanan values, our fish and wildlife resources and our outdoor traditions. We extend our thanks to him now for stepping up in support of this important legislation.”
“Wildlife conservation is an issue that unites all Montanans. We hope Senator Daines will join Senator Tester in championing this historic bill, just like he did the Great American Outdoors Act,” said Clewis.”
August and September were whirlwind months of visiting new people and getting outside. MWF has been intentionally busy finding spaces that yield connections and working to build relationships. MWF’s goal has been, and will continue to be, to show up and to serve as a bridge to connect people with issues around conservation to promote advocacy for wildlife, habitat and public access, and we’ve been doing just that!
It’s one thing to talk about it, and it’s quite another thing to take action. This is the first installment of a monthly update from the field where you’ll be able to celebrate with MWF and track all the places we’ve visited, folks we’ve supported, and our work in the field. For this initial update, we’ve included updates from the field for both August and September. For future field work, we’ll share updates every month, so stay tuned! In months where the fieldwork is slower, we’re going to work to keep you updated on ongoing work and campaigns.
Habitat Restoration for the Greater Sage Grouse outside Winifred
Morgan wrote a blog outlining the work and partners involved, so please give it a read and share it far and wide!
Women in Ranching Circle in Lima
Morgan attended the all-women circle at J Bar L Ranch in Lima where Amber Smith, a rancher in Cohagen and Women in Ranching Program Director with Western Landowners Alliance, facilitated the event. Focused on land stewardship and conservation, wildlife tracking, and working with equines, the circle brought together women from many walks, all wanting to connect, support, learn from, and grow with each other. It was a wonderful way to meet new people, experience the Centennial Valley, and learn more about working lands and ranching.
FWP Open Houses across the state: Glasgow, Helena, Great Falls, Billings, Miles City
MWF Staff showed up at each Open House held by FWP, listened to the public, and took notes so that we can work towards greater advocacy and accountability. Frank Szollosi, MWF’s Executive Director, attended each Open House and took notes of topics shared at each meeting. In Glasgow, Hank Worsech, the Director of FWP, joked about how Frank will remind him to share anything he missed. A gathering was held at Mighty Mo Brew Co. in Great Falls where MWF supporters turned out to visit with each other before the Open House and discuss talking points. MWF staff took the opportunity to visit with FWP staff in many of the locations where Open Houses were held and also showed up at multiple meetings held by FWP, such as the Missouri Breaks Elk Working Group meeting in Glasgow, and the Devil’s Kitchen Working Group meeting in Cascade. Thanks to those who came out to the Open House events, raised their voices, and stood up for wildlife, habitat and public access.
Watering Cottonwoods along the Missouri River and Talking Hunting with the Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument
The BLM, Northwestern Energy and MWF all supported the Friends to plant cottonwood and willow cuttings on both private and public land along the Missouri River outside Loma, within the Missouri Breaks Monument. The Friends are in their 8th year of planting and have planted over 800 cuttings, with the site that Morgan helped water 118 trees, most of which are actively growing roots. Cottonwoods in the upper section of the Missouri River are aging out and new growth is needed, so the Friends are working to support the growth of new trees. Trees are planted up and away from the river so that ice jams don’t remove them. Marcus spent the evening of September 28th chatting with the Friends virtually about all things “Hunting in the Breaks,” which welcomed non-hunters and hunters to come together to talk as hunting season gets underway.
Pictured is MWF staff, Morgan Marks watering a Cottonwood cutting; Photo taken by MWF staff, Morgan Marks.
Pictured is Mikayla Moss, the Executive Director of Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, wrapping up the hose for watering and working to water trees; Photo taken by MWF staff, Morgan Mark
Chokecherry Festival in Lewistown
Under big blue skies, MWF had a booth at the annual Chokecherry Festival. It was a beautiful day and a large-scale event, spanning the entire main drag in downtown Lewistown, that allowed for great exposure for the organization. A total of 34 new folks shared their contact information during the event and 3 new members joined the MWF to support and advocate for wildlife, habitat and public access.
Grayling Rescue with Region 4 FWP Fisheries Staff outside Fairfield
Morgan fulfilled some of her childhood dreams of playing in streams and catching fish with her bare hands when she worked alongside FWP Fisheries staff to rescue Grayling from a canal outside Fairfield. If left in the canal, the fish wouldn’t make it through the winter. A total of 220 juvenile fish and 131 adult fish were rescued and moved to Pishkun Reservoir.
Pictured on the left are, from left to right, FWP Fisheries staff Katie Webster, Katie Vivian and MWF Staff, Morgan Marks; Photo taken by FWP staff person, Dan Frazer.
Pictured on the right are juvenile and adult Grayling fish that were rescued; Photo taken by MWF staff, Morgan Marks.
Pictured on the left are FWP Fisheries staff; Photo taken by MWF staff, Morgan Marks.
Pictured on the right are FWP Fisheries staff, Dan Frazer and Katie Vivian, counting Grayling fish and tracking the numbers of juveniles versus adults; Photo taken by MWF staff, Morgan Marks.
Mannix Ranch Field Day in Helmville
Morgan Marks, MWF’s North-Central and Eastern Montana Field Representative showed up at Mannix Ranch in Helmville to visit with multiple members of the Mannix family, staff from Blackfoot Challenge, other ranchers, such as Caroline Nelson from Little Creek Lamb and Beef in Townsend and Sarah and Josh Christensen from Pintler Mountain Beef and Christensen Brothers Ranch, and a staff person from One Montana, Kelly Beevers, based out of Winnet (soon!) who also started and founded Topos and Anthros, a consulting firm working to strategically build strong communities and connect working lands, landowners, producers, private businesses and nonprofits. Presenters from the Mannix Ranch and Blackfoot Challenge discussed watershed health, land stewardship, regenerative ranching practices, rangeland practices, conservation activities on the ranch, collaboration within the community towards conservation, and how the future looks bright with new ventures coming down the line, such as a farm to table restaurant named Old Salt Co Op in Helena. The event was held and promoted by the Quivira Coalition who are hosting the virtual Regenerate Conference in late October. Don’t worry, MWF will be tuning in for that too!
Pictured are participants for the field day at Mannix Ranch; Photo taken by MWF staff, Morgan Marks.
Thanks for reading! For questions, suggestions, to get involved as a volunteer, and to share upcoming events you think would be great for MWF to show up at, please email or call Morgan at 406-403-4464 firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Morgan Marks, North-Central and Eastern Montana Field Representative with Montana Wildlife Federation.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) brought partners and diverse organizations together to support the restoration of habitat for Greater Sage-grouse populations this past August as part of a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) three-year grant. 2021 was the final year for the grant and NWF rounded out the work in a good and strong way. In the process of restoring habitat for Greater Sage-grouse, the restoration work also supports the landscape and other wildlife such as other birds and prairie animals.
MWF was involved in engaging and recruiting volunteers, supporting the preparation of materials for installation, and working with a few good folks from MTA to provide volunteer coordination and on-the-ground support for the project. The project had multiple people turn out and show up to support on volunteer days, which were purposefully scheduled before installation so that materials could be gathered and ready in advance.
Installation involved BLM staff, Great West Engineering, and Montana Conservation Corps crews to make and install low-tech methods to stall and slow water on the prairie landscape. Volunteers were affiliated with various organizations, such as Montana Trappers Association, Keep it Public, American Prairie Reserve, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Volunteers showed up and worked in very hot and dry conditions, and then the rain came. They cut, hauled, and prepared willows and other woody materials and drove many miles from site to site across Phillips, Valley, and Fergus counties. People carpooled, they camped at BLM campsites in both remote and beautiful locations, and people gave their time in service to the restoration of riparian lands to support the essential species, the Greater Sage-grouse. Volunteers and MWF staff also worked alongside BLM staff to support the removal of old and fallen down fencing on BLM land.
We’re better together. That was the overarching theme of the Greater Sage-grouse riparian restoration project. Conservation should be about working together to support wildlife and habitat, and this project was a shining example of just that. The focus of the location of the projects took place on BLM land. All sites were originally identified and selected as the best options for this project because they were the most viable to experiment with to see if low-tech methods and tree planting would work to restore water to prairie landscapes. Great effort went into understanding the history of the sites and whether or not such methods should be tried.
The prairie is a special place year-round, and especially in late summer, where thunderstorms can roll through, pour rain, and leave the land seemingly unchanged, albeit some thick mud, since Montana has been experiencing drought. In some parts of the state, regions of the state were experiencing drought since the beginning of the year. While the land was mostly bone dry, there were a few pools of water present at multiple sites this past month.
It’s easier to build beaver dam analogs (BDA’s) and log jams when the landscape is wet. When a structure is built in a flowing stream, the results of a BDA and/or log jam are immediate because the water slows down allowing the floodplain to reconnect and reverse the incision in a stream that limits water availability for riparian vegetation. Even with the surprise of rain, everyone shared big smiles during installation, and gratitude was felt for a bit of much-needed moisture. It became a joke that this project “makes it rain” because every year of the three-year cycle, it has rained where the project has taken place. Laughs were shared between people that going forward, activities to re-water the prairie through this grant and the people involved should be known as “the rainmakers.”
The prairie landscape has changed over time, with the land not keeping and holding water for as long as it once did. The land becomes drier, faster. Prairie streams have changed course, changed the landscape, and erosion has occurred in many areas yielding small, deeply cut streams across prairie landscapes.
Over time natural ways of slowing water down on the land have gone away. For example, beavers are an animal that was typically found in the prairie and on the land, and their dams allowed for water to slow down and pool in places. Without this creature, streams now cut through the land and allow water to rush by with little to stop it or make it stay in one place.
For this three-year project, restoring riparian habitat took many hands and much coordination. It’s important to highlight a few key terms:
Riparian refers to the intersection of land and water along a stream creating habitat and vegetation that depends on access to this intersection and specifically, the access to water; most wildlife and bird species depend on the riparian zone for part of their life cycle.
Restoration refers to work being done to improve, sustain and change the land and existing habitat.
Low-tech methods, which can be referenced in Joe Wheaton’s Riverscapes manual, were used to install structures made of natural materials such as willows and fallen trees, with the intention that the structures would slow the flow of water, and thus, keep water on the land for longer periods of time. Wetter habitat means greener habitat. Greener habitat means that Greater Sage-grouse have places to nest, food to eat and forage, and habitat to support them.
These low-tech methods, in some instances, mimic the work of beavers. Beaver dam analogs or BDA’s are one way to slow water down on the land and literally dam a prairie stream, mimicking the beavers that once were a part of the natural landscape. The goal is to imitate and mimic beavers to restore the land back to its’ natural functioning state, using natural methods and minimal technology. While no land can go back to the way it originally was, these methods will allow the landscape to change to what it can become now – something new, ideally with water staying on the land for longer periods of time to support wildlife and habitat restoration.
Beavers are the natural stewards of the land when it comes to holding water back, and with increased knowledge and people-power, along with many partners working together, these low-tech methods are being tried, tracked, and monitored to see what works on prairie landscapes without beavers being present. Questions have been posed about whether or not the goal is for beavers to exist again in locations where these methods are being tried. The answer is that sometimes beavers make their way back, and sometimes they don’t. The work is about much more than beavers. It’s about learning from nature to strategize about how to best steward the land, and in this case, learning from beavers is one way to positively change prairie landscapes and support the land with riparian restoration.
While the goal of the project was to ultimately support Greater Sage-grouse, as they are a key species on the prairie landscape, it’s important to note that riparian restoration work supports many other species of wildlife, not only sage grouse populations. BLM staff explained how, when they’re looking at the health of the land, they look for Greater Sage-grouse and signs that the bird is on the land and present. The Greater Sage-grouse helps the BLM know how healthy the land is.
Together, we can support conservation, habitat restoration, wildlife, and public lands.
Together, we can make strides to improve landscapes and support the natural environment.
Together, we are moving forward and creating pathways for positive change to occur – because we’re paying attention to the master, mother nature, and learning as we go.
Readings and Resources to Check Out:
Re-watering the Prairie, Montana stream restoration project imitates beavers to spread water, expand riparian habitat, by Sarah Bates, Acting Regional Executive Director and Senior Director, Western Water, with National Wildlife Federation, Northern Rockies, Prairies and Pacific Region: https://blog.nwf.org/2020/09/re-watering-the-prairie/
In response to unprecedented drought conditions across the West that have caused a record number of fishing restrictions and closures in Montana, MWF is calling upon Governor Greg Gianforte to step up to confront the impacts of climate change on Montana’s cold-water fisheries.
In a letter sent to Gianforte on Tuesday, MWF cited a recent statement released by the World Aquatic Scientific Societies that references the many impacts of climate change on aquatic systems, including several major impacts to Montana’s world-class trout fisheries.
Gianforte recently withdrew the State of Montana from a bipartisan coalition of states committed to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition to urging for immediate action on climate change, MWF urged the Governor to rejoin the multi-state coalition and also work to implement the recommendations of the collaboratively developed Montana Climate Solutions Plan.
MWF continues to be one of the only Montana-based sporting organizations to advocate for action on climate change to protect sporting opportunities for current and future generations. Learn more about MWF’s climate advocacy work here.
Add your email to start protecting Montana's natural treasures.
Alec is responsible for developing and implementing MWF’s federal conservation advocacy and policy campaigns to protect Montana’s fish and wildlife. He spends most of his free time hunting big game and fly fishing Montana’s cherished trout rivers. He also enjoys backpacking, skiing, photography, and woodworking.