"My grandparents...and then my parents were the stewards of the land. It has been well-loved through the years. I think they would be happy with this collaboration." - Darlene Mannix (Randy's mom!)
If you are looking for a model for cooperation in the rural West, you need look no further than the Blackfoot Community Project. The love of a legendary river and a valued way of life has brought together what might seem an unlikely cast of partners. Together they have conserved nearly 89,000 acres of invaluable wildlife habitat, storied trout waters and the future of the valley’s rural culture.
The Nature Conservancy’s work in the Blackfoot dates back to 1976, with Montana’s first-ever conservation easement, donated on on 1,800 acres near the banks of the river. But, it was the community that really drove the conservation of the valley.
A Rational Response to the Threat
In the early 1990’s local folks became increasingly concerned over the growing pressure for subdivision and second home development. Residential subdivision of agricultural lands and second home development along the river corridor and up in the forested hills posed significant threats to both wildlife and the rural character of the community. With a long-standing tradition of working across fence lines, in 1993, a collaborative community group called the Blackfoot Challenge emerged. Its membership includes ranchers, scientists, hunters, public land managers, anglers, conservation groups, loggers, and local business-owners.
The success of the Challenge rests on a simple, but critical premise: “Focus on the 80% where we agree, not the 20% that divides.” The goal of the group is to coordinate efforts to conserve and enhance the valley’s natural resources and rural way of life. The Montana Chapter is an active member of the Challenge.
When Plum Creek Timber Company - the largest single private landowner in the Blackfoot – made plans to start selling thousands of acres of its holdings in the valley, the Challenge kicked into high gear. After much study and consultation, it came up with a plan to purchase nearly 89,000 acres of Plum Creek land that included valuable wildlife habitat and private acreage intermingled with existing public holdings. The Conservancy agreed to purchase the land in a series of transactions that began in 2003, with the goal of eventually selling it back to a mix of public and private buyers committed to conserving its natural values.