A Deep Dive into the Carbon Markets

With increased trading of carbon credits in the “Ecosystem Marketplace,” ranchers throughout the countryside are questioning the risks and rewards associated with entering a carbon credit contract. 

During a recent panel discussion co-hosted by Good Grazing Makes Cent$ and the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance at the annual Society for Range Management meeting,  all angles of the carbon markets were interactively discussed.

From ecological perspectives in terms of soil/land health and potential economic opportunities to contracts, management, and the big picture, the total discussion was nearly three hours. 

Ready to DEEP DIVE into carbon? Here’s footage from the event:

Good Grazing Makes Cent$, a project of the Society for Range Management, aims to provide practical, applicable, and economically feasible range management solutions which can ultimately improve productivity of the land and the bottom dollar of the ranch through conversation and collaboration between range scientists and ranchers.

The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA) is a rancher-led, grassroots organization, dedicated to improving the quality of life for rural communities throughout the Northern Great Plains. Through collaborative conservation projects, rancher education events, and local community outreach, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance works to strengthen our rural community, economy, and culture for generations to come. 

Succession Stories Events Rescheduled for March 13, 14

UPDATE: The following depicts updated information for an event that was previously planned for February but has been moved to March. If you purchased tickets and/or sent in an RSVP for the February event, those have been tracked and will be honored. If you’d previously paid but are now unable to attend, we’re happy to issue a refund. Simply call the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance office at (406) 654-1405 or email [email protected]


It’s emotional. It’s financial. It’s pivotal. And it often gets put on the back burner. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that family-owned farms and ranches account for 97% of the 2.1 million total in the U.S. Yet only 30% of these survive into the second generation. Only 12% are still operating by the third.

What’s more, some 69% of the family farms surveyed expected ownership to continue into the next generation, but only 23% had a plan. Where is the disconnect? Reluctance to get into hard conversations, uncertainty about what professionals to bring into the mix, worries about fairness, and old-fashioned procrastination are among the list of possibilities.

To help our region’s farm and ranch families break through the noise of estate planning, Perennial Roots, a program of Ranchers Stewardship Alliance and Winnett ACES, and cohost Petroleum County Conservation District will soon be showcasing the firsthand stories of three Montana ranch families. Each will discuss the motivations, trials, and victories in establishing their estate plan:

Mannix Family – Helmville, Montana
A diversified and multigenerational operation, the Mannix family is continuing the 140-year tradition of the Mannix Brothers Ranch. There are plenty of cooks in this 50,000-acre kitchen. Decisions go back to the ranch’s board of directors, which includes brothers of the fourth generation, David, Randy, and Brent, their wives Peggy, Mo, and Stacey, and three representatives of the fifth generation, Neil, Bryan, and Logan.

Lee Family – Judith Gap, Montana
Bob Lee and late wife Kathy started their diversified cattle and grain operation in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains in 1969. The duo raised three successful children, one of which has now brought his family home to the operation. The ranch has been recognized for its approach to managing its natural resources and is well-known for the tours it offers to groups from across the state, nation, and globe.

Hammond Family – Malta, Montana
Howie Hammond is a first-generation producer on property that he and his wife, JoAnn, bought in 1979. The pair enjoys having their three daughters and their families living in Phillips County. Daughter Andrea and husband, Wyatt Lien, have committed to help run the operation. All-in-all, they run a cow/calf operation on roughly 37,000 acres with a portion seeded to small grains. Howie’s commitment to succession planning was inspired by conversations with Nebraska producers in jeopardy of losing their land in the late 80s. The Hammond’s ever-evolving succession plan became a top priority after a medical diagnosis for Howie in late 2014.

The two in-person events will feature presentations from each of the ranches along with evening meals and plenty of time for discussion. Both are stand-alone gatherings. While attendees are more than welcome to attend both, the content will be very similar in each location.

The focus on Monday, March 13 is Malta with the program running from 5-8:30 p.m. at the Tin Cup. Winnett’s Petroleum County Community Center will play host on Tuesday, March 14. Also running from 5-8:30, childcare will be offered.

More information and tickets for each night are available at RanchStewards.org/events. You can also preregister by calling the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Office at (406) 654-1405 or Haylie Shipp at (406) 853-0483.

Perennial Roots, a program of Ranchers Stewardship Alliance and Winnett ACES, aims to make succession planning resources more available to the agricultural producers we serve, ultimately helping to keep working lands operational and local ranches contributing to their communities economically, socially, and ecologically.

Photo courtesy of the DNRC Rangeland Resource Program.

New Waterline Ensures Cattle Stay on the Land and Land Stays Intact

With financial assistance from RSA, Ducks Unlimited (DU), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MT FWP), Jim and Dee Shettel drilled a 700 foot well and piped the water across two sections of expired CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) pastures to several tanks.

Grass is to cattle as water is to conservation. Ironically, that analogy could be shuffled in any order and still carry the same meaning. To conserve grasslands, it is critical to maintain the ability to stock pasture with cattle, and to do so, access to stock water is necessary. That is why groups like the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA), a non-profit based in Malta, Montana, invests in assisting ranchers with water development through their conservation program.

These water projects are meaningful to ranchers on any given year, but as drought choked the northern portion of Montana the last two summers, one particular pipeline on the Jim and Dee Shettel Ranch north of Dodson has been called both a “God send” and a “blessing.”

“Jim has been very on top of the water situation from the day he bought this place,” Dee said of her husband. “He’s built a lot of dams out here and we’ve just kept water on the place as best we could. But you can build all the dams you want, but when there’s drought, there’s just no water and this is going to make a huge difference.”

“We would have had to sell more cows. Most of our pastures are watered by reservoirs or pits or something, but it's years like this year and last year when they go dry and that kind of got us started drilling wells, so we had water when the when the reservoirs went dry.”

With financial assistance from RSA, Ducks Unlimited (DU), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MT FWP), the Shettels drilled a 700 foot well and piped the water across two sections of expired CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) pastures to several tanks. Thanks to the drought, that entire tract of land would have been unusable for cattle had the new waterline not been installed.

“We would have had to sell more cows,” Jim said. “Most of our pastures are watered by reservoirs or pits or something, but it’s years like this year and last year when they go dry and that kind of got us started drilling wells, so we had water when the when the reservoirs went dry.”

Investing in water infrastructure on the ranch has been a long process that was only expedited by the assistance of the conservation groups. When Jim and Dee drilled some of the first wells, they ran pipe above ground to transport the water.

“Money was not real fluent right then, so we just did what we had to do,” Dee recalled. “Jim unrolled black pipe and in places Jim would dig it in just a little bit because it gets so hot. Then, we had tanks we would fill, then water would run from that into the water troughs. We just did what we had to do to move the cows around and graze everything, so it was grazed efficiently. We’ve come a long way since and it’s nice to have the water lines in and the nice tanks and I’m looking forward to doing even more of that.”

The recent water project aided by RSA and partners not only meant cattle could graze the northern portion of the ranch, but it could be done in a more efficient manner as well. Dee explained the importance of tank placement and distributing water across pastures in a way that allows cattle to graze it evenly. Having water available in more places also means the cattle are moved more often.
“We don’t believe in overgrazing, and we’ve always worked at that,” Dee said. “Basically, we’re just trying to do a better job of grazing.”

Maintaining the health of the range is of the utmost importance to Shettels and it’s a priority they have been working on since Jim returned to the ranch in 1957. At that point, most of the ranch was grass. Then, Jim’s father made the decision to farm nearly all the land that could be accessed because “my dad was a farmer and by gosh, you farm, that’s what you do,” Jim said with a laugh.

“Well then big winds come and the dirt flies,” Jim said. “Then, you start thinking about conservation and start stripping it down in narrow strips. Then, we decided to seed it all back to grass and that’s when you really get into the conservation more.”

Jim said one of their main conservation goals, and one aided by water systems that keep livestock on the land, is to “keep the land from blowing away.” That’s also why RSA, DU, FWS, and MT FWP invested in water lines on the Shettel operation”

“The wildlife concern was that their entire place is almost primarily expired CRP or former cropland that could easily be converted back to cropland from grass, with no USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) penalty,” RSA/PF Conservation Coordinator Martin Townsend said. “If we can do things on expired CRP like add stock water and grazing infrastructure, we’re more likely to assist those producers in keeping that grass in grass long term.”

Jim and Dee first encountered Martin in his former role at the local NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) office when they inquired about their water plan. Several attempts at the NRCS fell just short of securing funding for the Shettel’s project.

“We had come up against the deadline with the producer needing to do their project, so we then turned to the partnership that RSA has grown to put together, and through a combination of partners, Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited, we were able to provide a well, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks was able to provide the pipeline and then Rancher Stewardship Alliance was able to provide the tanks for their stock water system,” Martin explained.

Dee called these groups “the frosting on the cake” who were able to bring their project to fruition all because they share a common goal.

“They’ve been really easy to work with and it helps that we all have the same focus – to keep the grass on the land and keep the ranchers going and hopefully it continues to be that way,” Dee said.
The conversion from farm fields to grass, with help from the addition of water, has not just improved the stocking rate on the ranch, but kept the land healthier, ensured an abundance of diverse wildlife, and ultimately, “feeds our livelihoods as ranchers,” Dee said.

“We’re really blessed to have this life, it’s very special that we get to live here and do what we do,” Dee said. “They don’t make any more land so to me it’s a precious commodity.”
“It’s just the idea of keeping everything the way it was so it’s here for great grandkids and great, great grandkids,” Jim echoed.

Knowing there is a “community of conservationists” working together on projects like Shettels makes Dee “feel more confident that our goal will be reached,” she said. And for Jim and Dee, that goal is to keep the ranch going for their family and the upcoming generations.

“I feel like we’re on the same page,” she said. “We really appreciate being part of something where we’re all looking down the same road and we all have the same game plan. It’s really nice to talk to people who appreciate the same things you do and want to keep the land healthy.”

Forging these relations has not only been advantageous for Shettels in that they are able to invest more in the ranch and secure its long-term viability, but also learn from individuals from different walks of life in the meantime.

“I’ve learned that these conservation groups know there has to be agriculture along with it and that’s interesting because years ago, we thought they just wanted wildlife and those groups had that stigma to them. Then to learn that they were interested in helping keep the ranchers going, we think the tradeoff is darned good. We do what we can to help what they’re doing and they’re helping us.

“You have to have a broad mind and an unselfish view of what makes this world click. And this ranching world needed some help, and these guys came along and not only taught us a lot of different things, but hopefully we’ve shared our knowledge, too,” Dee concluded.

by Kayla Walker for Ranchers Stewardship Alliance

What You Really Need to Know About Carbon Markets

In the ranching community, it’s no surprise that the same range cows are grazing is also sequestering carbon. What may come as a surprise to some is that the unseen act of carbon sequestration on today’s ranches could be a potential source of revenue. As carbon markets surface in more and more recent industrywide conversations, some ranchers are cautiously venturing into the space. However, a greater number of ranchers are likely consumed by a list of questions when they hear of the new concept.

“How much is a carbon credit worth?”

“Does entering a carbon market contract impact my ranch management decisions?”

“How is carbon stored and how are payments calculated?”

“Could this be a worthwhile revenue stream for my ranch?”

Good Grazing Makes Cent$ and the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance have teamed up to answer some of these questions during their event “What You Really Need to Know About the Carbon Market.” The two panel discussion will take place at the 76th Annual Society for Range Management Meeting in Boise, Idaho on February 15, 2023, and will be live streamed via Facebook and YouTube as well.

The first panel will consist of several ranchers currently partaking in carbon markets or focusing on carbon sequestering strategies, as well as experts in soil science, research, law and land valuation. This panel will discuss many of the common questions ranchers may have about carbon markets, namely their application on the ground and important considerations prior to entering a contract. The second panel will host carbon market aggregator representatives who will explain their programs and field questions from the audience, both in person and online.

By first exploring carbon markets from ecological, economical, legal, and logistical angles, participants can weigh the pros and cons of this new opportunity. Learning from the experiences of other ranchers who participate in the carbon market will help those interested better understand both the potential implications and possible opportunities before making a well-informed decision for their operation.

Carbon market aggregators will then be on hand to further explain how contracts work, what is expected of the rancher, and how carbon credits may add to the bottom dollar. As the carbon market is a relatively new concept in the ranching industry there are many different contract designs, so a variety of aggregators on the second panel will ensure multiple options are explored and questions can be thoroughly answered.

Both panels will feature short introductions, but the focus of the presentations is to answer ranchers’ questions about carbon markets, so the format will be interactive for both in-person attendees and online viewers. This aligns with the overall goal of Good Grazing Makes Cent$, a program of the Society for Range Management, which aims to provide practical, applicable, and economically feasible range management solutions to improve productivity of the land and the bottom dollar of the ranch. The event is cohosted by the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, a rancher-led, grassroots organization, dedicated to improving the quality of life for rural communities throughout the Northern Great Plains through collaborative conservation projects, rancher education events, and local community outreach.

To learn more about the event, participate online, or register to attend in person, visit goodgrazing.org/carbonmarkets.

RSA Board Member’s Conservation Featured by MSU

A publication of Montana State University, the MSU Collegian recently featured Tyrel Obrecht, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance board member, and his father Sam. A two-for-one effort, both Obrechts are MSU Alumni.

The story highlights the innovative management strategies the duo is implementing on their Turner, Montana ranch and how those conservation methods can help aid carbon sequestration.

Among those practices, the Obrechts have latched onto rotational grazing, increased soil and wildlife monitoring, and signed on with a carbon offset company with the potential to add 10-20% to the ranch’s bottom line.

Curious as to what they’re up to? CLICK HERE to read the full story on pages 38-39.

Photo by Hannah Bicknell for MSU Collegian.

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Unveils Rural Resilience Lineup

Growing our ranching and rural community’s financial, ecological, and social resilience with experienced speakers on soil carbon, cattle selection, small ruminant grazing, and rangeland monitoring, the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance “Rural Resilience” webinar series is back for a third year!

Kicking off the 2023 series on Thursday, January 19 is Soil Carbon: What’s the Buzz? with guest presenter Peter Donovan, founder of the Soil Carbon Coalition.

Want a better grasp on soil carbon? Analyze the importance of soil microbiology and soil test results while relaying the relevance of each to soil health and profitability during this online workshop. Carbon credit contracting is all the rage. What’s new? What’s old? What are the motivations, issues, benefits, and risks? Join us as we tackle those questions and yours.

The series will continue the third Thursday of February, March, and April with discussions on cattle retention/restocking at a time of drought uncertainty, small ruminant grazing, and photo monitoring to assess your impact on your ranch.

Webinars will be held via Zoom from 7-8:00 PM MST. RSVP and get login information on our event signup page.


The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA) is a rancher-led, grassroots organization, dedicated to improving the quality of life for rural communities throughout the Northern Great Plains. Through collaborative conservation projects, rancher education events, and local community outreach, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance works to strengthen our rural community, economy, and culture for generations to come.

Valuable Validation: Rangeland Analysis Platform Offers Ranchers Decision Support

With data validated through the Rangeland Analysis Platform, Kevin Koss was able to partner with NRCS to begin implementing a tree thinning project.

Ranchers who carefully monitor and manage the range can often describe the changes they have seen over the course of several years. However, on a day-to-day basis, major changes to the landscape can be difficult to recognize and nearly impossible to quantify as some occur slowly and tend to go unobserved when viewing the range each day.

In the case of conifer encroachment on Kevin Koss’ ranch south of Malta, Montana, for many years it was largely unnoticed. But after what Koss called over a decade of “above average precipitation at different times of the year, but good years in all,” he “suddenly” observed “thousands of small trees from six inches tall to several feet high.”

“Then I got to paying attention more, and I could see that the places where, when I was a kid, there weren’t any trees, or very few, were now just completely filled in,” Koss explained.

In fact, since the mid-eighties, the tree cover had increased in some pastures from 4 percent to 15 percent, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA) Conservation Coordinator Martin Townsend said.  Koss suspected an increase in trees and loss in grass, but it wasn’t until he utilized the Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP) to quantify the change that he realized tree encroachment had tripled.  With that added tree growth, his grass production was decreased by about 10 percent over the same time period and another tool within RAP estimated that to be a 300 pound per acre decrease in grass, or nearly one-third of the available grass in the area lost to trees. 

Being able to match his observations with these startling figures, not only reaffirmed to Koss that something must be done, but the data to back the problem helped him form a partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to begin tackling the issue.  Through NRCS funding, Koss is now working to remove swaths of new and encroaching trees from his pasture.  It’s still early on in the project, but Koss said any effort will help.

“We’ve only done maybe 20-some acres, so the results aren’t necessarily as immediate, but they’re  definitely going to start showing because these trees are growing by leaps and bounds every year, and if I don’t take care of some of the smaller ones when they’re easier to deal with, it’s going to get a lot more prohibitive,” Koss said.

NRCS Soil Conservationist Caitlin Gillespie said the RAP tool has been instrumental in implementing the tree removal project.  The historical imagery slider, which compiles all the aerial photos of a specific region as far back as possible, some even from the fifties, and allows users to see how the landscape has changed over the years.  As a new project leader in the Malta area, the RAP tool helped Gillespie gain a better understanding of what the country used to look like and quantify the goals of the project. 

“Tools like this allow us to see not only in the past what has happened, but also what in the future is going to happen as a result of what we’re doing,” Gillespie said. 

For NRCS, she said the RAP tool will help justify the implementation of many projects as well.

“I think that’s what we’ve lacked in recent years, just the data to back up our practices and see that we’re what we’re doing does make a difference down the road,” Gillespie said.  “Even if we’re not directly monitoring with the producer, we can look back at our project and say, ‘oh, after we did a cover crop this year, or after we did residue management, their perennial grass cover went up.’  We can look back and keep tabs on what we’re doing and if we see something that didn’t maybe work correctly, then we can go back and make adjustments too, so I think that’s going to be huge.”

“We've only done maybe 20-some acres, so the results aren't necessarily as immediate, but they're definitely going to start showing because these trees are growing by leaps and bounds every year, and if I don't take care of some of the smaller ones when they're easier to deal with, it's going to get a lot more prohibitive,” Kevin Koss said.

There is some degree of trial and error in rangeland management, and the RAP tool helps show what land managers may or may not have observed.  For example, Dusty Emond, a rancher in Southern Phillips County, had a clubmoss issue on some acres back in the nineties and attempted to remedy it by spiking the ground.

“I was kind of disappointed, it seemed like all we did was just grow more cheat grass and made it so rough the cows really didn’t want to graze out through it,” Emond said.

Townsend helped Emond analyze this particular acreage on the RAP tool and the year he spiked was evident on the graphs as the bare ground was largely reduced, from about 10 percent to 5 percent.  But upon further analyzation, RAP tools also showed that annual forbs were the main driving factor in reducing bare ground, with coverage increasing from it’s all time low of 0.5 percent to 12 percent after spiking.  The perennial grasses did some improvement as well, growing from 91 to 92 percent production.  So overall, according to data mined through the RAP tool, the spiking project did increase overall grass production on that acreage by about 5 percent, Townsend explained.

Seeing the data the RAP tool could provide, Emond started applying it to more decisions on his ranch.  During the recent drought, he utilized the programs stocking rate tool to calculate his winter grass availability and help with his decisions about supplemental feed and cow numbers to keep heading into the winter. 

“This winter he was talking about trying to figure out if he had enough hay to feed the cows he had left and how long that grass might last,” Townsend explained.  “So we were looking at the winter pastures and calculated out what that pasture has produced through time and tried to get an average based on where we were this year for an estimate of how much grass might be there.”

The tool can serve both as a current AUM calculator and provide historical production data off of which to base decisions.  To add to that, it predicts the percent of normal production for the current point in the year.  As of June 2022, for example, the given pasture was yielding about 60 percent of its average historical production – likely because the cooler spring has delayed growth.

Kevin Koss had observed an increase in trees and loss in grass, but it wasn’t until he utilized the Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP) to quantify the change that he realized tree encroachment had tripled. With added tree growth, his grass production was decreased by about 10 percent since the mid-eighties and another tool within RAP estimated that to be a 300-pound-per-acre decrease in grass, or nearly one-third of the available grass in the area lost to trees.

While Emond still closely monitors his range and makes his management decisions off his years of experience on the ranch, he said his findings on the RAP tool closely matched his “old-fashioned” calculations and reaffirmed his decisions.

“That came pretty close, I had just a little less grazing than I would have thought based on the tool,” Emond said.  “Monitoring is probably still the best, but as we all know, by the time we get around to monitoring, it’s kind of a mute point.  So, this lets us forecast in the future, and 10 minutes in the office will tell me what two hours of running around checking monitoring sites will tell me.”

He has also closely analyzed grass production after a major cross fencing project and said it “reaffirmed what I suspected.”  After piecing a 5,000-acre pasture into three smaller pastures, Emond increased the utilization of that grass by 40 percent. 

With the cost of large projects like building cross fence, integrating cover crops, or implementing tree removal, having statistics helps justify the price point and reaffirm those management decisions.

“It’s brought science to the equation,” Koss said.  “Things that we may think are happening or not happening, we just don’t have the access to scientific data on our own on the ranch so it’s just been fantastic to have that tool to say, ‘this is right what you’re doing is helping’ or ‘what you’re doing isn’t helping.’ Changes are happening and so it’s just been something that we wouldn’t have access to on our own necessarily.”

That’s why Townsend, through his work with RSA, has helped so many ranchers apply the tool to their operation.  One of RSA’s main goals is to help ensure the viability of the modern rancher, who then supports the local community, and continues to maintain critical habitat for thriving wildlife populations.

“When ranchers are able to validate their adaptive management through time, it makes adaptive managers more successful,” Townsend concluded.

By Kayla Walker for Ranchers Stewardship Alliance

Three Small Tanks with a Large Impact


If there is a water line to add, a tank to set, or a unique water set up to try, it’s likely Dusty Emond has done it on his ranch south of Malta, Montana.  Of the nearly 12 miles of pipeline on his place, six new miles were added just last fall following the harsh drought of 2021 to send water to an additional 7,500 acres that could not be utilized by cattle last summer due to a lack of water.  However, along that pipeline there are yet to be any tanks.  

“Even this year, we will have at least 20,000 acres that will be un-grazeable without portable water that literally has no water in stock reservoirs,” Emond said.

In a widespread drought where feed sources are already scarce and ranchers statewide are seeking pasture leases or hay, having 20,000 acres of grass that can’t be utilized due to a lack of water is ironic to say the least and detrimental at worst.  In an effort to utilize more of that pasture and make use of the new pipeline addition, Emond partnered with the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA) to purchase two portable water tanks and one permanent winter tank.   

“In normal conditions, we were adequately watered. Given the last couple years of drought, we’ve had to drop our grazing considerably and water is my next most important key step to staying profitable and being able to utilize my grass,” Emond said.  “The nice thing about this is we can now set them different places than where the reservoirs are to help spread out our grazing distribution.”

The Tomcat MFG portable water tanks are designed with mobility and ease of use in mind.  The tanks can be moved daily, if need be, and once drained can be hooked on to anything from a four-wheeler to a pickup to pull to the next location.  Emond has one of his portable tanks paired with a solar powered pump, also in an easy-to-move trailer, pumping water out of a stock reservoir that is too low for cows to access.  When not filling out of a reservoir, the portable tanks can be quickly moved to the new six-mile water line where one of eight hydrant locations will become a new water source. 

Along his 12 miles of pipeline, Emond has tried a variety of tanks including 2,000-gallon rectangular fiberglass tanks, half round fiberglass tanks, 12-foot round tanks, tire tanks, and the new RSA-funded portable tanks.  The new portable tanks are quickly becoming one of his favored systems.

“I’m leaning towards the rubber liner portable water troughs just because I can drain them, hook them up, and be gone in no time,” Emond said.  “The big fiberglass tanks I have to drain one day, go back the next day with a tractor and load them on a flatbed trailer and move them.  Fiberglass that are set permanent are quite nice, but they’re also permanent and I’m getting enough hydrants that I don’t want to buy that many tanks.  So, the rubber portable is the most adaptable.  But probably the best long term is a permanent fiberglass.”


Funding from his RSA partnership was also used for the purchase of one permanent winter tank.  The new permanent tank will allow for grazing on one and half sections of deeded land that otherwise couldn’t have been winter grazed.  Given the cost of major projects like new water pipelines, the partnership with RSA has helped Emond increase water availability, for both summer and winter, on his ranch. 

“They have definitely helped offset some of the cost,” he said.  “I keep doing all these little experiments and stuff, so it helps to offset the cost. Most of it I would probably have done on my own, just at a slower pace.”

That slower pace is tough to afford though when drought is causing destocking and altered management plans.  Emond runs cow/calf pairs and some stocker cattle, as well as sheep and goats.

“I was kind of an early bird and I sold cows faster than everybody else with the theory that I would grow grass and be able to rebuy faster than everyone else,” he said.  “I destocked more significantly than most of my neighbors last year, but also I didn’t have that other water line in.”

Emond maintained more sheep and goats than he did cattle last summer as their input requirements are lower.  This diversity in his operation proved beneficial as drought drove many management decisions.

“We had the sheep and goats before the drought, but last year I was able to graze some pastures that didn’t have enough water for cattle. We used the solar pumps and pumped for the sheep because they took less water,” Emond explained.  “I am seriously considering expanding the sheep business because they need less water and can do better on lower brix feeds. We didn’t start with sheep for that reason, but we will probably expand for that reason.”

As ranchers face many variables like market conditions, rising operation costs, and adverse weather conditions, they must seek creative ways to simply stay in business.  Keeping ranchers on the range is one of the main goals of RSA, and their many conservation partners see the value ranchers play in the ecosystem.  For example, Emond’s ranch consists of miles and miles of connected native range which provides critical habitat for not just his livestock, but many wildlife and game bird species including Sage Grouse.  RSA’s conservation partners have prioritized preventing conversion of such range into cropland.

“If it can be grazed and kept in grazing long term, then hopefully it doesn’t ever become plowed because plowed native range doesn’t go back to being native range,” RSA Conservation Coordinator Martin Townsend said.  “We can plant native species, but it’s not the same thing.”

So, while the purchase of two portable water tanks and one winter tank may seem to have a minimal impact on such a large ecosystem, for Emond, it means accessing thousands more acres for grazing during drought, and for wildlife and birds it means the preservation of the native range they call home.

“If we can build a relationship with ranches and keep them enthused about ranching longer, the most successful wildlife habitat is often on working agricultural lands,” Townsend said.  “In fact, 70 percent of the best habitat in Montana falls on private lands and in an area that RSA works in that’s well over 50 percent public land, being able to work on those private lands and provide support through conservation is a huge win for wildlife for years to come.”


By Kayla Walker for Ranchers Stewardship Alliance 

RSA Launches Inaugural Membership Drive

When Ranchers Stewardship Alliance formed in 2003, we started with the desire to keep grasslands along the Northern Great Plains intact and its agricultural producers flourishing. That desire has continued throughout the last 19 years of the organization’s history. Today, the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is committed to supporting our ranching, conservation, and rural communities as we work collaboratively to maintain these ranching communities which producers have long cared for.

Here is a look at how RSA has impacted our ranching, conservation, and rural communities across the last two years to increase the resiliency of ranch businesses, our grasslands, and wildlife habitat. 

As the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance continues to press forward with our mission, we know our programs aren’t slowing down in 2023.  

For the first time in organizational history, we are offering an opportunity to be a part of our solution-based mission.  

Our inaugural 2023 membership is open, and we are inviting you to be one of the original Ranchers Stewardship Alliance members. 

Your membership commitment to the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance will continue to build the treasured grassland communities, maintain open spaces, increase wildlife habitat, and produce food and fiber for the rest of the world. This membership is  informal and non-voting, but your voice is still valued and encouraged!  As a committed member, we would also invite you to inquire about serving on one of our planning committees.
Interested? CLICK HERE for membership details.

RSA Receives National Recognition

An amazing and unexpected honor, RSA was recently awarded the “Outstanding Partner Award” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

The Program provides free technical and financial assistance to landowners, managers, tribes, corporations, schools and nonprofits interested in improving wildlife habitat on their land.

Along with the fancy plaque, RSA Executive Director Angel Devries and Board member Rick Caqeulin traveled to Arkansas to receive the award and update the group on RSA’s great success.

This recognition wouldn’t have been possible without the local ranchers and ag producers who have trusted us time and time again to collaborate on private-land projects positively impacting ranchers, land, wildlife, and rural communities. This work truly is about the winning team!