By Leo Barthelmess, President, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance
In 2018, Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3362 to improve habitat quality and big game winter range and migration corridors for antelope, elk and mule deer. The order provides funding for research and restoration projects to improve habitat within important migration corridors across the West. In response, Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks more recently identified five priority areas in our state with the most relevance to big game winter range and migration.
From my family ranch’s view in the heart of ‘Priority Area D: from the Canadian border to the Musselshell Plains’ in south Phillips County, this is no surprise. We’ve long been aware of these big game movements, although we may not have been able to articulate our working knowledge with the precision of the research that has more recently tracked and measured the extent of this land’s importance to big game movements. Still, we watch wildlife move through our pastures and fields with the same seasonal ebbs and flows that dictate our ranch’s calendar and daily work. We see when and where antelope pace alongside a fence line they fail to navigate, we recognize the impact a wildlife herd can have on our livestock grazing plans, and we mend the fences where their movements burst through.
On Dec. 1, the Governor-appointed Private Lands Public Wildlife Council will host a panel discussion to hear from landowners across Montana concerning how the state may better support working lands that support wildlife movements and migrations. The Council ultimately offers recommendations to the Governor and to the state legislature on issues concerning private lands and public wildlife. As the stewards of our working lands, ranchers can and must offer valuable working knowledge to this conversation. It’s important that we offer our insights and ideas early in the process and remain engaged in the conversation.
The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance hosted a local discussion in October with our Fish, Wildlife and Parks representatives to learn more about their research and understanding of big game migrations and to share our working knowledge of the land and wildlife they’re studying. The local ranching leaders who serve on our Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Board of Directors appreciate that FWP has made concerted and conscientious efforts to seek out local landowner perspectives in these wildlife migration issues.
The Private Lands Public Wildlife Council’s Dec. 1 virtual meeting will continue that conversation by asking: How does the state of Montana better support the working lands that support wildlife movement and migration? What is working? What do landowners need more help with, and what recommendations would landowners give? Information on the meeting, including call-in information, can be found at http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/hunterAccess/plpw/.
The technical knowledge and research provided by FWP, other agencies and wildlife experts helps me make decisions that can benefit my ranch, the public’s wildlife and my rural community. In turn, our ranching experiences and observational wisdom can help agencies make plans that are realistic, agile and meaningful. This kind of collaboration doesn’t happen by accident. It takes resources and relationships and constant communication. The door is open on Dec. 1, and I’m urging fellow ranchers and private landowners to tune in to the live stream, offer their input and be a part of the conversation.
Leo Barthelmess, President, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance
Barthelmess Ranch, Malta, MT.
Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is a rancher-led, conservation-focused non-profit in north-central Montana. We help multigenerational and beginning ranchers build the collaborative, trusting relationships and community-based solutions they need to create healthy working landscapes and vibrant rural communities. We believe that ranching, conservation, and communities build the ultimate winning team.