2021 Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Annual Report

While 2021 was a year full of challenges and trials, it was also a year where we saw the intersection of “ranching, conservation, and communities” truly create “a winning team.” The severe drought, not just in our northern Montana counties, but across a large sweep of the region, brought with it feed shortages, water concerns, and even tough decisions for ranchers to destock their herds if their hunt for feed supplements or additional pasture came up short. However, in the face of that, the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA) truly embraced its mission leading to one of its most successful years to date.

We hosted multiple inaugural events and educational efforts, saw new participants seeking information from a larger region, forged stronger partnerships with those who shared our concern of preserving this range when drought placed it under pressure, and helped ranchers manage a bit more effectively by implementing water projects when they were needed most. And none of that could have happened if it wasn’t for dedicated RSA staff rolling up their sleeves, our loyal Board of Directors taking time out of their own strained schedules for the greater good of our collective mission, and our reliable partners continually seeing the need for and providing assistance through collaborative

Throughout this Annual Report, it’s evident the work RSA was able to achieve with the help of our staff, Board, and partners was necessary for not only ranchers, but for the greater good of our communities. Events like the Rural Resilience webinar series, the book club, and the Soil Health Tour convened thousands of participants craving more knowledge, seeking new relations, and embracing adaptive management to better their businesses, their local communities, and their part of this larger landscape. The miles of fence and waterlines, and the many new tanks and wells all illustrated not just the ranchers dedication to conservation, but our partners willingness to help improve this
ecosystem for everyone involved – people, livestock, and wildlife.

Looking back at 2021, we may initially remember heat, grasshoppers, water shortages, and drought, 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.

Leo Barthelmess, RSA Board President

View a full digital version of the 2021 Annual Report here. Want to receive a printed copy? Email Anna at [email protected] to request your copy!

Join the Winning Team: Executive Assistant position now open!


This position has been filled!

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance

Executive Assistant

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is a fast-growing, rancher-led organization based in Malta, Montana. We exist to help multi-generational and beginning ranchers build the collaborative, trusting relationships and community-based solutions we need to create healthy working landscapes and vibrant rural communities.

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is an organization nationally recognized for its leadership in building partnerships that provide education and implement stewardship practices and principles supporting vibrant communities, multi-generation family ranches and healthy ecosystems. Our mission statement is Ranching, Conservation, Communities – a Winning Team!

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is seeking an Executive Assistant to contribute to our mission and to be a member of this winning team.

Our ideal candidate is:

  • Self-starting; a logical worker who can see needs and work independently.
  • Tech-savvy; a problem-solver who can help make webinars function seamlessly, who thinks tracking data and spreadsheets is fun, and who can integrate new software that helps the whole team be more successful.
  • Detail-oriented; a focused task-master who makes sure every mission is checked off the list,
  • Team-focused; a helper who ensures other team members, customers and partners have the information and resources they need to be successful.

We offer:

  • A flexible workplace; this position be based Malta, Montana, office the majority of the time. We offer flexible remote work when on occasion, when needed.
  • A winning team; we’re a small team, but we’re growing quickly and opportunities continue to abound. If you care about ranching, these prairie landscapes and our rural communities, you’ll be a part of meaningful work that makes a positive impact on all three.
  • Room to grow; we value learning, wise growth and getting better every day. We bring in educational speakers and workshops for our ranching community and work to invest in our own professional skills so we can continue to serve.

The details:

  • Ideally, we envision this position is 20 hours a week with a starting wage of $18/hr.
  • Each employee serves a 3–6-month probationary period to determine if we fit together
  • Because we work largely with volunteers and in events, some evenings, early mornings, and weekends are required. We’re flexible with your work hours because we’re flexible to our work needs!



Support Staff

  • The main go-to person and support staff for the Conservation Coordinator, Finance & Grant Administrator, and the Communications & Outreach Leader
  • Your duties as support staff may vary widely with an opportunity to learn many new skills and functions of our organization

Day-to-day operations  

  • Mail, mailings, preparing bank deposits,
  • Answer phone, relay messages, and maintain local office communication.
  • Email inbox management and exodus
  • Filing, scanning, & organizing systems; updating filing systems and scanning with naming protocol
  • Contribute to the organization and coordination of community events and functions (PC Proud, educational workshops, tours, etc.) by leading logistics, including entertainment, location, equipment, educational materials, programs, door prizes, food, etc.

Committee management  

  • Creating agendas, notes, and reports, setting up zooms, keeping schedules, moving work forward for committee
  • Notify RSA board, committees, members, partners and the community of monthly meetings and committee meetings
  • Organize and edit all incoming information for all RSA meetings. Assist the Project Leader in organizing meetings and developing agendas for monthly RSA meetings.
  • Set up Zoom meeting links & reserve conference room for meetings, compile and print meeting packets for meetings; record, distribute and file RSA monthly meeting minutes.

Charity Proud software and database management  

  • Self-teaching opportunity! Learn the Charity Proud Customer Relationship Management software to handle customer/partner database management.
  • Manage RSA calendar, grant deadlines, physical mailing and electronic mailing list
  • Maintain record of director’s terms of office and election dates, and track attendance at meetings.
  • Prepare donor acknowledgement letters

Technology management  

  • Scan documents, establish and maintain an organized filing system.
  • Transition electronic files to new online filing system, lead planning on naming system
  • Manage office software systems, passwords, electronic inventory, etc.,

Please submit a resume, cover letter, and at least three professional references to:
Conni French at [email protected] and Angel DeVries at [email protected].

Applications will be collected until a suitable candidate is found.

Join the Winning Team: Communication & Outreach Leader position now open!


This position has been filled

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance: Communications & Outreach Leader

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is a fast-growing, rancher-led organization based in Malta, Montana. We exist to help multi-generational and beginning ranchers build the collaborative, trusting relationships and community-based solutions we need to create healthy working landscapes and vibrant rural communities.

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is an organization nationally recognized for its leadership in building partnerships that provide education and implement stewardship practices and principles supporting vibrant communities, multi-generation family ranches and healthy ecosystems. Our mission statement is Ranching, Conservation, Communities – a Winning Team!

We are seeking a Communications & Outreach Leader to join our winning team and contribute to this mission.

Our ideal candidate is:

  • Self-starting; you are an entrepreneurial leader who can see needs, seek creative solutions, and work independently.
  • Relationship-centered; you are the ‘hub’ of the organization’s social life. You share stories, ideas, and connect people and partners. You bring energy and emotional intelligence to work with board, staff, volunteers, funders, partners, and our community.
  • Mission-driven; you embody the mission of the organization, lead us in strategic planning, have a mission-driven vision for the future of ranching, conservation, and communities, and you are comfortable representing this mission publicly.
  • Deeply connected; you are networked in and understand the ranching, conservation, and rural community scene. You bring connectivity to other similar organizations, current and potential partners, and funders, and are rooted in the rural and ranching way of life.

We offer:

  • A flexible workplace; this position will be based in Blaine, Phillips, or Valley County, with an option for a flexible combination of remote work and time in the Malta office.
  • A winning team; we are a small team, but we are growing quickly, and opportunities continue to abound. If you care about ranching, conserving prairie landscapes, and our rural communities, you’ll be a part of meaningful work that makes a positive impact on all three.
  • Room to grow; we value learning, wise growth and getting better every day. We bring in educational speakers and workshops for our ranching community and work to invest in our own professional skills so we can continue to serve. 

The details:

  • This is ideally a full-time position, but we are willing to start on a project-by-project basis.
  • Each employee serves a 3–6-month probationary period to determine if we fit together.
  • Because we work with volunteers and at events, some evenings, early mornings, and weekends are required. We’re flexible with your work hours because we’re flexible to our work needs! Some travel will be required.
  • Full funding for this position is secured for at least one year, with opportunities and a desire to continue. Salary range is $40,000-$60,000 depending on experience and ability.



Community Connections:

  • Clearly communicate (written and verbally) Ranchers Stewardship Alliance’s mission and goals in compelling ways.
  • Serve as primary point of contact and liaison for Ranchers Stewardship Alliance for outward facing communication and community leadership.
  • Attend meetings with stakeholders, partners, and resource groups to inform, update and/or coordinate on Ranchers Stewardship Alliance activities such as tours and educational events.
  • Lead the development of on-ranch volunteer opportunities and volunteer coordination.
  • Work with your team to develop fundraising efforts; lead donor communication and relationship development and create opportunities for new funding sources.

Communication & Outreach:

  • Create strategic annual communication plan, including annual report, appeals, and media outreach. Lead coordination of design, printing, and distribution of communication materials.
  • Maintain a social media presence (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, webpage, etc.) and regular connection to our Ranch Stewards community through MailChimp newsletters.
  • Work with outside contractors or self-produce video, audio, and print stories that illustrate our mission, vision, values, and achievements in meaningful ways.

Education & Workshop:

  • Create a central ‘hub’ through the Education & Outreach Committee for the ranching community beyond Ranchers Stewardship Alliance’s traditional audience.
  • Strategize, plan, and execute education and workshop calendar, including in person and virtual events, that reach community needs and ranching objectives.
  • Provide leadership for Education & Outreach Committee for functions such as Annual Banquet, educational workshops, virtual webinars, tours, etc.; provide for project vision, core values and purpose, and then execute through agendas, speaker coordination, entertainment, materials, and advertisement.
  • Provide public information through media outlets on Ranchers Stewardship Alliance activities, upcoming meetings, and opportunities for stakeholder participation and input.


The ideal candidate will have proven experience in communication and leadership/project management. You demonstrate a working knowledge of grassland conservation and the ranching communities of the Northern Great Plains. A record of leadership and team building will help you seamlessly work with fellow staff, volunteer board of directors, and partners. Formal education or documented experience in communication, journalism, leadership, education, or other relevant topics is valuable.

Please submit a resume, cover letter, and at least three professional references to: Conni French at [email protected] and Angel DeVries at [email protected]ewards.org.

Volunteer fence maintenance a win-win for landowners, big game

By Martin Townsend, RSA Lands Coordinator  

This summer, an effort between conservation organizations and Blaine County ranchers at the Louie Petrie Ranch north of Turner, Montana offered two days of hands-on learning, practical ranch work, and collaboration to benefit ranching and pronghorn migration in the region.

The Obrecht family hosted more than 40 volunteers June 17 and 18 at their ranch to share how fencing and simple changes of wire heights can make huge impacts for migrating pronghorn. The Woody Island Coulee area is a key migration linkage for pronghorn. Hundreds of animals migrate through the area each year as they follow­ the narrow strip of grassland from summer to winter ranges at each end.

Along the way, these animals can encounter fences that make travel difficult. This added stress can have negative impacts to their health and survivability, especially in harsh weather. Raising bottom wires on fences to 16-18 inches can greatly reduce these hindrances. This field day accomplished just that task for the benefit of migrating pronghorn as well as completed some needed fencing maintenance on the ranch.

The workshop started with presentations related to pronghorn migration and programs from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and Pheasants Forever biologists. Tyrel Obrecht shared an overview of the ranch and gave a great explanation as to why they prioritize wildlife habit alongside their cattle grazing. The family has found that by managing their grazing in a way that benefits wildlife, their business benefits, too.

Tyrel Obrecht shares information on the ranch’s grazing practices and the carbon sequestration work they are doing with Western Sustainability Exchange.

The group toured the ranch to see cropland that has been seeded to grassland and their use of temporary fence to help with plant recovery and carbon sequestration. By grazing small areas for short periods of time, and therefore allowing greater rest and recovery time after grazing, Obrecht said he has noted increased plant vigor and resiliency without sacrificing grazing capacity. This increase in plant response also helps provide high value food sources for wildlife. These are food sources pronghorn need while migrating through the area.

Next, volunteers either removed a bottom wire, clipped the next wire up in places, or re-hung at a height easier for pronghorn to get under. Most of the volunteers were conservation agency or organization employees with Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), Ducks Unlimited, World Wildlife Fund, Pheasants Forever, Ameri-corps and more. Surrounding ranchers also came and learned about pronghorn migration and provided support to the fencing crews.

While the volunteers worked on wires, ranching neighbors in UTV’s helped supply tools, moved crews and provided water as the afternoon got warm. The event brought together a diverse network of experiences and expertise: college-aged interns worked alongside state and regional agency directors; ranchers worked alongside employees of wildlife non-profits. Everyone got to meet someone new and directly contribute to improving habitat for wildlife and the ranch’s grazing infrastructure. Many of the participants camped on the ranch to get an early start on the fencing the second day. This provided an opportunity to get to know each other, see more of the ranch and recreate in a place some had never experienced. Some of the intern participants were from as far away as Massachusetts and some had never seen pronghorn before. The event was a great introduction to ranching and wildlife co-existing in this prairie landscape.

Pheasants Forever Biologist Hunter VanDonsel explaining the conservation project and grassland reseeding underway on the ranch.

The Obrecht family and workshop organizers set a goal to modify nine miles of fence for the event. By lunch on the second day, the group had modified more than 11 miles of fence. It was a great opportunity for relationship building, community engagement, wildlife habitat improvements, and ranching exposure for people that might not otherwise see the intersection of ranching and conservation on the ground.

Thank you to all who put this event on, including Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Blaine County Conservation District, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and First Bank of Montana.

Thank you to the Obrecht family and the Louie Petrie Ranch for hosting this great event.

2020 Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Annual Report

In the midst of severe drought, we’re constantly reminded of the power of deep roots. The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance has been working to solve problems and create a brighter future for our ranches, our rural communities and the wildlife that depends on this land for more than 17 years.

Leo Barthelmess
Leo Barthelmess, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Board President

Our organization has experienced some incredible growth in the past year. We’ve added new staff, we’ve added resources for more grazing improvement projects, and we’ve added big goals to our future plans. But we know we’ve only grown today because of the local, focused effort so many people have put in over the course of the past 17 years.

We believe this is how we help our own rural communities succeed. We start small, we focus on the positive outcomes we can control, and we recognize we must desire a clear solution more than we want to fixate on our problems.

Out here, we all want quality of life for ourselves and our livestock, we want a wonderful community to live in, we want these soils and water systems to work properly. As ranchers, we recognize we’re just a little piece of this big complex puzzle of life. Together, we can take good care of the pieces in our hands.

We’re excited to share this 2020 Annual Report with you, and to show you the pieces we’ve been working on. Our collective successes are only possible when we tap into the reserves of a deeply rooted community. We need each other to build a thriving future. I’m so thankful to live in the community we do, to work on the landscape we do, and to partner with the people we do. It’s a wonderful place to be.

Leo Barthelmess,

Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Board President

PS — View a full digital version of the 2020 Annual Report here. Want to receive a printed copy? Email Madison at [email protected] to request your copy!

Soil Health Tour with Nicole Masters ahead

Internationally recognized agroecologist, author and teacher Nicole Masters will facilitate five in-person soil health workshops across North-Central Montana this summer.

“In the midst of a drought, we’re all thinking, ‘What can we do to make our land and our ranches more resilient?” rancher and Musselshell Watershed Coalition coordinator Laura Nowlin said. “Anything we can do is worth considering, and we know that soil health is a critical part of that equation.”

The day-long, hands-on workshops will be held in Winnett, Malta, Glasgow and Circle, Montana starting June 28. Each location will have unique, site-specific topical focuses and targeted key take-aways, but all locations will cover an introduction to soil health principles. Attendees are welcome to choose one or several locations to attend. Registration is now open at www.ranchstewards.org.

Masters, the director of internationally recognized Integrity Soils, has a formal background in ecology, soil science and organizational learning. Her team at Integrity Soils works alongside producers in the U.S., Canada, and across the Australasia region consulting and coaching land managers in soil health principles. Her book, For the Love of Soil, is a land manager’s roadmap to healthy soil and revitalized food systems. The book equips producers with knowledge, skills, and insights to regenerate ecosystem health and grow farm profits.

The Soil Health Tour is hosted by a partnership between the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, Winnett ACES, and the Garfield, McCone, and Petroleum County Conservation Districts.

“Our goal is to have more tools in the toolbox when it comes to knowing how we can help our soil hold more moisture, how we can add diversity to our soil, and how these skills will help us be more productive and profitable in the long term,” Petroleum County Conservation District administrator Carie Hess said. “Soil health is a landscape issue – it doesn’t know boundaries, and when we all work together, we can make big improvements across the landscape.”

Masters will kick off the Soil Health Tour at 10 a.m., Monday, June 28 at the Flatwillow Hall near Winnett, Montana for the “Ladies Day on the Range.”  Guests should plan to bring a sack lunch for the all-day event, which will focus on a basic understanding of soil health, explore how healthy soils are connected to healthy foods and ask, ‘What should we do first to improve nutrient density?” Registration for the Ladies’ Day is $20 per person.

The broader Soil Health Overview workshop will open at 1 p.m. the following day, Tuesday, June 29, for all participants. This session will begin at 1 p.m., also at Flatwillow Hall, with dinner provided and an optional BYOB social hour at 6 p.m. This session will offer a rangelands and grazing focus, identifying how to manage for grasshoppers, tame grass pastures, and address annual grasses like cheat grass and Japanese brome. Registration is $35 for the first registrant, then $20 for additional business or family members (up to six people).

The Soil Health Tour will reconvene at 1 p.m., Saturday, July 10 at the C Lazy J Ranch south of Malta, Montana. Craig and Conni French will host Master’s classroom and field instruction from 1-5:30 p.m. at the ranch, with a focus on grassland restoration and intensive livestock grazing for soil health. Dinner will be provided for all guests at 6 p.m. at the Milk River Pavilion in Malta; a no-host social hour will follow for anyone interested in learning more.

Beginning at 9 a.m., Monday, July 12, Jeff and Marisa Sather will host Master’s next event on their farm and ranch near Larslan in Valley County. This location will focus on soil health in cropland systems, including the use of traditional grains, forage and cover crops in rotation, inter-cropping, and livestock integration. Guests will discuss and view results from compost extract applications and other biological and mineral amendment protocols, along with an equipment demonstration, including a compost extractor, combine stripper header, and mobile electric fencing unit.

The final session of the tour begins at 9 a.m., Wednesday, July 14 at Josh and Amanda Murphy’s Circle, Montana ranch. Field work will be from 9 a.m. to noon, followed by lunch and an indoor classroom discussion at the Circle Fairgrounds. This workshop will focus on future uses for expired CRP land and regenerating old, crested wheatgrass stands. Registration for all sessions other than the Ladies Day on the Range is $35 for an initial registrant; $20 per additional business or family member (up to six people per group).

Earlier in the year, Masters was a featured speaker in a Ranchers Stewardship Alliance-hosted webinar, “Building resilient underground livestock: Principles for regenerative agriculture and soil health.” A recording of the webinar is available at https://youtu.be/9Lrn-sfWAv4.

Farmers, ranchers, grazers, and gardeners alike are welcome and encouraged to register early. Registration for each location will close one week before its respective event.  Youth are welcomed to attend; children under the age of 12 may join free of charge. Registration scholarships are available for young/beginning producers (under the age of 40). The scholarship application can be found on the event’s registration page and takes less than ten minutes to complete. Link to the registration page can be found at www.ranchstewards.org.

For questions or more information, please contact Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Project Leader Laura Nelson at [email protected], or call the RSA office at 406-654-1405.

Improving productivity, diversity in old crested wheatgrass stands

In our inaugural Rural Resilience webinar Jan. 19, Dr. Dave Naugle shared key tools and ideas around the scientific basis for investing in grazing communities to conserve wildlife, introduced exciting new technological innovations in rangeland monitoring, and communicated the potential benefits of transforming expired CRP acres into valued assets of your grazing operation.

If you missed the live webinar, the recording is now available on our YouTube page. Registration is still open for future webinars.

One topic that surfaced many times in the webinar chat box and in the discussion following Dr. Naugle’s presentation was the challenge grazers face in rejuvenating or adding diversity to established stands of crested wheatgrass.

In the post-event survey, we asked our ranching participants to share their experiences and experiments with grazing old crested wheatgrass. Here, we’re sharing their responses in hope that it sparks ideas if you’re seeking, and creates space for you to comment with your own successes or failures. The survey responses were shared anonymously.

What has been your experience with improving the productivity or stand diversity in old crested wheat grass plantings? What experiences have you had or experiments have you tried, and to what results?

I like to use them in early March almost like a stockpiled native grass. That time of year the cows really go after those early green shoots in the middle of the bunches.

Just starting to work on that. Bought my own no till drill. Seeded some old crested alfalfa hay fields back to native grass this winter after being in cover crops for 1 to 3 years.

We used an old crested field for spring calving and the native very slowly started moving in. We were good with having the mix and like some crested for places where it gets heavy use in the spring.

Some responded well to just herbicide, but most often crested won.

We have both farmed and sprayed crested wheatgrass monocultures with minimal success.

Targeted grazing has allowed old stands of crested to start to move to greater diversity. I’ve tinkered with several approaches and had some success by: let crested get wolfy for a year or two if possible to reduce vigor and produce fungal-feeding litter in the system; broadcast desirable seed (big sage, purple prairie clover, green needlegrass, western wheatgrass, blue grama and dryland, spreader alfalfa) on the ground; graze intensively to get standing matter trampled to the ground and get current year’s growth down to ~2-3″ tall — then get out and stay out until the area needs grazing again to favor establishment of desirable species. Big sage and alfalfa came in pretty good; some western got established; prairie clover, blue grama and green needlegrass didn’t take in the competitive environment though some plants came up in previously bare patches (claypan microsites). Worked best done in April when the fall moisture had been only moderate and we had some good summer moisture.

Bale feeding didn’t work very well for me — probably would work better with cattle than with sheep. Application of high-quality composted straw and sheep waste (broadcast through manure spreader at average depth of 1/2″ but very patchy distribution) stimulated the existing plants and depressed establishment of desirables. Poor result with using canola fed on the ground in the winter to concentrate cattle — killed the sage while the crested loved the trampling and concentrated nutrients. Next experiment probably combining targeted grazing with application of biostimulants (vermicast and/or Johnson-Su bioreactor product).

I don’t see Rx fire as an answer for me as I suspect low soil organic matter may be part of what gives crested an edge. I would be really interested in a study that examines soil biota in same soil types with different veg communities — what are the key differences, if any, between places where crested/sweet clover/Japanese brome are dominant or increasing versus native plant dominated communities? If differences are found, can we tweak plant species composition by tweaking soil biota (ala Nicole Masters, Marin County Carbon Project, etc.)?

We just have small spots. So we just be sure and graze them when the cows will eat them.

We had a club moss infested crested wheat field. Dow chemical did a plot trial on it looking for a chemical solution; that proved to be fruitless. We tried grazing it very hard for short periods of time for multiple years; that proved to be mostly non-affective. We then tried spiking it with our toolbar. We had excellent results from that! Production increased at least 500% and there is better plant diversity as well. That had to have been 15 years ago and it remains very productive.

Thanks to these participants who shared their experiences and experiments. Please comment below with your own, or with resources you’ve found helpful. 

2020 Landscape Stewardship Award

The following citation was presented to the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance by Public Lands Foundation Montana representative Richard Hopkin. While the citation was issued Sept. 18, 2020, Hopkins presented the citation in at RSA’s January 2021 Annual Meeting.

Public Lands Foundation citation The Public Lands Foundation (PLF) presents the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA), with its 2020 Landscape Stewardship Award and this Citation. The PLF grants this recognition to honor private citizens and organizations that work to advance and sustain community-based stewardship on landscapes that include, in whole or in part, public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The RSA includes local ranchers as well as specialists from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Foundation, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Pheasants Forever, World Wildlife Fund, and Ducks Unlimited.

The RSA was recently the recipient of a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Western Big Game Migration Grant. This grant was co-funded by BLM. The project is funding targeted habitat restoration and enhancement projects to benefit big game winter habitat and migration corridors in north-central Montana.

The RSA is currently implementing on-the-ground projects within priority areas that include seeding over 1,400 acres of croplands to native plant species, improving grazing systems on over 11,500 acres, and converting over 15 miles offence to be wildlife friendly.
The NFWF Big Game grant is just the latest in a long list of grant funding. Since 2017, RSA has received over $1.2 million in grants and has leveraged much more in matching funds from other organizations for on-the-ground conservation projects in north-central Montana. They have also sponsored and hosted numerous educational and informational tours and workshops to share and promote sustainable ranching practices and conservation programs. Sustainability would not be possible without including the public lands that surround and, in most cases, incorporate most north-central Montana ranch operations.

Because such a large portion of the native range in north-central Montana is under private ownership, it would be impossible for BLM to provide for all the habitat needs of native wildlife without the cooperation of private landowners. RSA has provided a bridge between public and private land managers to learn more about each other’s values, concerns, and available resources. By inviting BLM to participate in the RSA, it has enabled better communication and understanding between BLM and area ranchers as well as other conservation organizations. This has enhanced working relationships in ways that promote larger landscape-level projects and has made the associated processes more efficient.

RSA has set an example of leadership, cooperation and community involvement that has inspired other ranching communities to develop their own landscape-level stewardship groups who also work with conservation and public land organizations to implement projects across private and public lands. The types of conservation projects promoted by RSA align with BLM goals and include: installation of fence modifications to allow migrating pronghorn to pass through; marking fences to reduce sage-grouse collisions; voluntary retention of prairie dog colonies; wetland retention and restoration and native grassland restoration; control of noxious weeds and non-native grasses; and implementation of grazing systems to improve rangeland cover for nesting grouse and songbirds.

The Public Lands Foundation is pleased to present the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, with its 2020 Landscape Stewardship Award and this Citation for invaluable contributions to the stewardship of America’s public landscapes.

Bring landowner voices to Dec. 1 Private Lands/Public Wildlife meeting

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– 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.

Ranch Stewards November 2020 Meeting Agenda

We’re looking forward to having you join us at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 via Zoom for our November Ranchers Stewardship Alliance meeting. The meeting information is below.

Been curious about RSA but not sure how to get involved? This would be a great time to get started by joining a committee! This is where you can really make a difference in guiding the application of our mission: Ranching, Conservation, Communities — A Winning Team!

  • Workshop/education committee – Bring a speaker or topic idea you want to learn more about and help share it with the community.
  • Phillips County Proud Committee – Plan the social event of the season to celebrate ranching, conservation and communities!
  • Conservation Committee – Review and monitor the on-the-ground conservation work of RSA and our partners.
  • Communication/outreach Committee – Help share the story of how ranching, conservation and communities make a winning team!
  • Expansion Committee – Work with Winnett ACES leaders to find mutually beneficial relationships and grow RSA’s impact in rural communities.
  • Fundraising Committee – Develop and execute fundraising plans to ensure a sustainable future for ranching, conservation and rural communities!

If one of those sparks an interest, but you’re unable to join us on Nov. 10, just email Laura at [email protected] and let us know you’d like to be notified of the committee’s work and meetings.

5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020
Ranchers’ Stewardship Alliance November 2020 Meeting Agenda

Connect with VIDEO:
Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85639528990

Connect with AUDIO ONLY:
One tap mobile: +16699009128,,85639528990#
Dial in: 1-669-900-9128
Meeting ID: 856 3952 8990

Mission Statement: Ranching, Conservation,
Communities – a Winning Team!

Introductions/Roll Call

  • Agenda additions/changes
  • Outreach: Has anyone presented to any groups pertaining to RSA this last month?
  • Review and approve October minutes
  • Review and approve financials

Standing Committee Reports:

  • Conservation Committee: Sheila Walsh
  • Phillips County Proud Committee (now focused on annual meeting): Kelli French
  • Workshop/Education Committee: Conni French
  • Communication Committee: Dale Veseth
  • Fundraising Committee: Aaron Oxarart and Vicki Olsen
  • Expansion Committee: Sheila Was
  • Membership Committee: Conni (with Fundraising Committee)
  • Beginning Ranchers Committee: Casey

Old Business

  • NFWF NGP Phase V grant application submitted – Laura/Angel
    (Submitted narrative and letters of support attached)

New Business

  • Welcome new staff – Linda Poole, office administrator
  • ACES updates – Brent Smith
  • Conservation Committee requests – Sheila

Announcements/Upcoming Events:

  • Oct. 25 – Nov. 20: REGENERATE Quivera Coalition Conference, https://quiviracoalition.org/regenerate/register/
  • Nov. 12: 5 p.m., Grass Bank Planning Committee meeting
  • Nov. 19: 1 p.m., Communications Committee meeting
  • Nov. 30: 6 p.m., Fundraising Committee meeting
  • Dec. 1: Expansion Committee meeting
  • Dec. 3: Conservation Committee meeting
  • Dec. 8: RSA Monthly meeting
  • Jan. 12: RSA Annual Meeting

Adjourn meeting

Executive board session to follow