By Brad Reynolds
If you ask Montanans to define “Montana values,” the answers will deviate from one person to the next. Some folks will put freedom and sustainability at the top of that list. Others prioritize conservation of our state’s natural beauty and resources. But most answers will include some variation of “community,” because ultimately, no matter what “Montana values” look like to each of us, it’s only by working together that we continue to make Montana the Last Best Place.
This is the mission of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance.
“We serve as an intermediary voice to connect ranchers, non-profit organizations, and non-government agencies, and government agencies to resources and to one another to achieve common goals,” explains Angelica DeVries, Executive Director of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA).
RSA was established in 2003, when several ranch families across northern Montana collaborated to solve common problems. Since then, RSA leaders have worked alongside professional consensus builders, technical experts, business professionals, and the staff of conservation groups and other agencies to develop strategies to meet the needs of Montana’s wildlife, while also protecting ranching traditions. Member input is requested and respected. More than anything else, the RSA wants to offer hope for the future of rural communities, with a stepwise plan to build good outcomes for all involved.
“We do this through two major programs,” explains DeVries, “the first being education.”
RSA hosts several events—both in- person and online—to bring people together and share information.
“It’s one hundred percent relationship based,” says DeVries. “Producers will come to us and address an issue their facing. Non-profits will say, ‘We have money that will fit right into that.’ We connect producers to the tools and resources that will benefit them.”
“What RSA tries to do is keep an open channel between groups and be an example of how to rally around positive outcomes that are within your control” adds Conservation Coordinator Martin Townsend—conservation being the other major focus of RSA.
With an MSU ag education degree and a resume that includes BLM range technician, Townsend understands the importance of balancing wildlife management with the needs of Montana agricultural community. Much of his time is spent on the ground, visiting Montana ranches, discussing conservation programs and asking producers for their input.
“Ultimately, these decisions are in the ranchers’ hands. There are no outside influences deciding anything for them,” Townsend explains. “We provide them all the information we have, and they choose what’s best for them.”
RSA’s board of directors and body of volunteers is composed of landowners, ag producers and individuals deeply involved in the agriculture industry, each with an intimate understanding of what it means to be a steward of the land. As the group nears its twenty-year mark, it acknowledges that there will never be a shortage of challenges for Montana ranchers to face, but by working together, there is much they have overcome.
“Looking back at 2021, we may initially remember heat, grasshoppers, water shortages, and drought,” says RSA President Barthelmess, “but let’s not
fail to acknowledge the many wins we experienced—each one coming about because in the face of adversity, we chose to come together as a winning team, working collaboratively for ranching, conservation, and community.”
For more information on Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, visit ranchstewards.org.