Connecting the Dots
It is not hard to imagine what some of Montana’s most special places would have looked like without the long-term and persistent effort of the Montana Land Reliance (MLR). Places like the Smith River Canyon country could have been asphalt and houses instead of grass, trees, and grazers.
Montana’s future is tied to the land and to the people who live on and manage it. MLR envisions a future with enduring landscapes that keep Montana’s agricultural lands and communities healthy and flourishing over the generations.
On August 5, 2017, rancher and MLR board member, Phil Rostad, took the stage in front of over 400 MLR landowners and supporters at the Million Acre Celebration on the Hilger Ranch near the Gates of the Mountains, took the pen, and to raucous cheers from the audience, signed a conservation easement on his family’s Martinsdale ranch, pushing the total easement acreage held by MLR over the million-acre mark. The ranch that hosted the party is itself a part of that million acres.
One million acres. MLR has secured the most easement acres out of any land trust in the state and out of 25,692,063 total acres conserved nationwide, MLR is responsible for 4% of the total. That’s a big deal.
The moment Phil signed the easement papers was the culmination of four decades of hard work, unwavering vision, and persistent effort of the MLR board, staff, and thousands of supporters. We’ve had setbacks, leaps forward, and thousands of cups of coffee around kitchen tables.
When I started with MLR in 1979, as the Treasurer and Secretary of the Board, I never imagined what we would accomplish. As I reflect on those decades and the organization’s recent milestone, I do so with immense gratitude for the people and places that have gotten us here and for the collaborative nature of these efforts: voluntary participation, shared goals, pooled resources, and a deep commitment to place.
MLR has thrived and succeeded, even during lean years, because we understand the sacred connections between people and their places, and between working landscapes and public lands. We understand the power of relationships and trust.
There are some who would look at Montana and see two classes of landscapes: the publicly-owned parks and wilderness preserves, and the privately-owned working terrains of farms, ranches, and forests. Often, these people believe that the former is more deserving of our conservation attention and resources.
But we have always known that the protection and conservation of our working landscapes is as important as the protection of our public lands. The success of landscape-level conservation lies in the critical intersection of public and private land.
Helping ranching and farming families stay on the land while protecting river valleys, watersheds, wildlife corridors, winter range, and breeding habitat for wildlife exponentially increases the value of public lands Montanans love so much. The two go hand-in-hand.
The distinct challenge and reward of MLR’s work is that each property, ranch, farm, parcel of land, and family is different and every owner has different goals for their property. I’m blown away every day by the staff at MLR who understand and respect the uniqueness of the places where they work and the people they work with.
Such practical respect is the true discipline of MLR’s efforts.
In this year’s annual report, you’ll weave your way through the sage brush steppes and prairie plains of eastern Montana to the high mountains of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, from the banks of the iconic Smith River to the far corners of northwest Montana, through the ecological transition zones, through the public lands and working lands, and through the minds of the people who have chosen to protect their land for future generations.
The report is a story of the big picture and of the tiny puzzle pieces coming together. It is a story of collaboration and of deep affection for and affirmation of Montana’s local communities, working landscapes, and the natural world.
It is a story of the past, of the present, and of the future.
It is a story of Montana.