Collaborative Conservation in the Blackfoot Watershed

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is one of the largest nonprofit conservation organizations in the world. They have conserved over 100-million acres across 72 countries with the help of one million members. There is a small and ambitious branch of TNC located in Missoula, Montana. In the last two decades, they have carried out the largest single private conservation purchase in history, right here in our backyards.

In the push to settle and develop the West, the federal government used a rectangular survey system that split the land into systematic boxes. Attempting to entice railroad companies, the federal government gave them alternating 1-mile parcels of land. Over time, these railroad holding were sold to ranchers, settlers and timber companies. The checkerboard of ownerships continues to create enormous challenges for land managers today.

BFWatershedMap_Poster_02_17_16.jpgThe Blackfoot Challenge, 2016: http://blackfootchallenge.org/?cat=57

Plum Creek Timber Company came to own more than one million acres of this former railroad land in Montana. When Plum Creek began to transition away from logging, TNC saw an opportunity to take on a complex and innovative conservation strategy to condense ownership of this important landscape. As an interim owner, TNC is holding an extensive collaborative process to work with neighbors and partner organizations to redistribute the land to permanent conservation owners. This landscape is the southern tip of the Crown of the Continent, which remains one of a dozen places left in the world that has not has a single recorded post-industrial plant or animal extinction. It is vital habitat as well as historic, working land. The project will ensure its conservation for wildlife, rural livelihoods and recreationists.

COCE_Boundary_CMP_2013Wildlife Conservation Society North America, 2013: https://northamerica.wcs.org/Wild-Places/Crown-of-the-Continent.aspx

My global theme is natural resources and sustainability. I chose to do my Beyond the Classroom experience in Montana because I wanted to develop a deeper understanding of the groundbreaking work happening in the part of the world I already call home. My original plan was to participate in a three-month internship. I quickly realized that to work on a project that exists on a decadal timeline, I was going to need to keep showing up if I wanted to add something of value. My official GLI internship has been the beginning of a much longer relationship with TNC and their partners.

I am a communications and coordination intern, which means I am both creating storytelling materials and coordinating collaborative workgroups and events. I have had the opportunity to attend many meetings and observe collaboration in action. I have practiced taking notes and organizing them in such a way that captures the important information the group wants to carry forward. I have practiced setting up an online database for information sharing. I have practiced designing timelines and delegating responsibilities. I have practiced holding my colleagues (and myself) accountable to those timelines. I have practiced writing invitations and dealing with the messy logistics of other people’s schedules. I have practiced my interview, photographic and writing skills. I have been challenged to be resourceful when I lack experience and knowledge. I have learned to ask loud and clear for the materials and information that I need in order to do my job well. Most important off all, I have built relationships with some of the most passionate and intelligent people I have ever met. I feel so lucky to have a window into such exciting conservation work in the West and to actually play a role, however modest, in moving it forward.

Thank you to Jeanne Loftus for connecting me with The Nature Conservancy and thank you to the Franke Family for funding my work with them. This has been and continues to be the most challenging and rewarding set of projects I have done thus far in college.

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