Win-Win-Win for Rural Communities, Conservation and Wildlife Habitat

Partnership power! A diverse alliance comes together to make the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance work. Photo by Laura Nelson.

By Martin Townsend, Pheasants Forever Coordinating Biologist for Ranchers Stewardship Alliance

Building success in rural communities can be as complex as the landscapes, habitats and living webs in which they exist. But when we work together, we can make a positive impact on the economic and ecologic factors surrounding rural community development on the northern Great Plains. My work linking two prominent non-profit organizations creates a connection between wildlife conservation, rural communities and ranching culture.

Pheasants Forever promotes upland habitat for the benefit of wildlife, sportsmen and the communities that share that habitat. The mission of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA) is Ranching, Conservation and Communities — A Winning Team. Together we’re helping people who care about land health, animals and sustainable livelihoods on the land flourish.

The partnership between Pheasants Forever and rancher-led groups like RSA is a win-win-win. Pheasants Forever gains habitat access and ranchers gain improvement projects that benefit agricultural production and wildlife. Pheasants Forever’s support of my position with RSA links multiple goals together and creates a powerful footprint in the local community. For example:

  • In 2020, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance committed more than $194,000 to local ranches for on-the-ground conservation projects in North-Central Montana. Partners and landowners contributed an additional $178,000 to grazing improvement projects, for a $372,000 total paid to local well drillers, pipe setters, fencing contractors and more, supporting the rural economy beyond the ranch.
  • Since RSA’s first grant in 2017, we have worked with 56 family ranches to impact more than 70,000 acres via restoration or enhancement of grazing lands. We have leveraged RSA’s grant awards investments more than 5:1 with total project costs exceeding $3.3 million to date spent in our rural community for positive impacts our grassland habitats.
  • This coordinated effort between Pheasants Forever, Ranchers Stewardship and other RSA Conservation Committee Partners led to a recent $6.4 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program award to PF from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). This funding will be directed to north-central Montana to make ranch improvements that will benefit wildlife habitat.

These dollar amounts do not include the additional funding and habitat work RSA has assisted our other conservation partners in implementing. RSA’s Conservation Committee gathers groups like Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, NRCS, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Bureau of Land Management, National Wildlife Federation, Montana Association of Conservation Districts, Montana Conservation Corps and The Sage Grouse Initiative to get project dollars to the ground in RSA’s focus area.

Dollars on the ground are a boon for landowners and the local economy, and create lift for long-term habitat improvements. For example, the High Grass Landscape is a habitat area important to grassland birds like Baird’s sparrow, Sprague’s pipit and Chestnut-collared longspur. Eighty percent of RSA’s 2020 conservation projects occurred on ranches within this habitat. Monitoring associated with these projects showed positive increased in abundance of the above species after project completion.

This is where the true power of partnerships shines. Pheasants Forever’s support of this habitat effort is key to providing the coordination needed to keep these resources available for the benefit of ranching, conservation and communities.

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Winter Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!