Out on the ground in Montana's Ruby Valley

We gathered at the Alder Fire Hall in southwest Montana while thunderstorms rolled around outside. With friendly greetings, handshakes, and hugs, ranchers, conservationists, and community members shared how the summer had been treating us. Some spoke of hikes, others of working ranches. On that particular day our group of 20 gathered to tour a project that could restore a creek in southwest Montana’s Ruby Valley.

Les Gilman of the Ruby Habitat Foundation speaks on the tour the Foundation hosted in late summer. (Photo GYC.)

Les Gilman of the Ruby Habitat Foundation speaks on the tour the Foundation hosted in late summer. (Photo GYC.)

More than a year ago, ranchers and conservationists got together to figure how we can work together to benefit the Ruby Valley, a land of wild spaces and working ranches. We named ourselves the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance. In a time of stark disagreement among our nation’s highest levels of leadership, we understand that the best way to keep lands in the Ruby Valley healthy is to work together. We’ve discovered we’re not so different from each other. We care about the same things: Keeping open spaces open, working ranchlands working, and protecting wild places. We’ve learned from each other over the past year by meeting regularly, hosting learning sessions, and going on field trips. As we learn more about each other, our work, and our interests, we’re figuring out how we can best work together to benefit the land.

From GYC’s standpoint, we know we need to understand landowners – one-third of Greater Yellowstone is private land. If we’re going to take care of this place, we need to work with the people who live and work here. This isn’t about horse trading – there’s no “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” here. This is an authentic partnership, where we recognize each other’s power and realize that fighting each other doesn’t work and it never has.

The Strategic Alliance organized this tour on this thunderstormy day. Hosting the tour was the Ruby Habitat Foundation, a group dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural resources, and social and economic makeup of the Ruby Valley and southwest Montana. On the field trip we learned a lot about Clear Creek, a stream connected to the Ruby River. The Ruby Habitat Foundation has proposed a project that will improve irrigation and restore more cool water to the creek. I was interested to learn about irrigation practices and how this project will help improve water management along Clear Creek.

The group talks about riverbanks and how important they are. (Photo GYC.)

The group talks about riverbanks and how important they are. (Photo GYC.)

While this project will take several years and considerable resources, the Ruby Habitat Foundation has been asked to submit a proposal to a Farm Bill partnership program. This Farm Bill program requires partnerships, and is a great opportunity for us to work together to make this project a reality.

I’ve learned the best way to figure out how to contribute in a partnership is to get on the ground, talk to people, and ask questions. These are the best first steps when getting to know who people are and what they care about. The Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance is working together to protect wild places, keep wildlife vibrant, restore and maintain healthy waters, and to keep working ranchlands on the landscape. These goals would be almost impossible for a single group to achieve, but through partnering in the Alliance, these goals are within reach.

-- Darcie Warden, Montana Conservation Coordinator