On Feb. 16, the Obama administration released its report on the America’s Great Outdoors developed in cooperation with the American people at listening sessions across the country. As an owner of a ranch in the Madison Valley, I am pleased to see the administration’s emphasis on protecting working landscapes in this report. This is not surprising, given Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s ranching background.
It was remarkable at Bozeman’s listening session to hear a common viewpoint: that conservation is an issue demanding our country’s full attention for reasons ranging from human health and happiness to the protection of important habitats and working lands.
The restoration project that Granger Ranches has been working on is a prime example of the collaborative, ground-up approach to conservation being emphasized in the AGO initiative.
Through partnerships with state and federal governments, conservation organizations and private industry, we have been able to restore 600 acres of wetlands and miles of spring-fed streams on our land. Conservation easements protect the restored area and surrounding land. Clean air, clean water, open space and working lands are needed equally by us all. Using this model of leveraging talents and resources from public and private organizations, similar projects that address these needs could be successfully undertaken throughout Montana and across the country.
What has become known as the O’Dell Project has given me the opportunity to experience firsthand the power of public-private partnerships for conserving America’s working landscapes and protecting important habitats. Today, both our ranch and the ecosystem we are restoring are thriving. Bird species have increased from 10 to more than 100 in just five years. Water temperature in the stream has dropped significantly into a healthier range for a cold water fishery. Flows from our project into the Madison River have increased, bolstering a resource that is environmentally important and depended on for recreation, agriculture and energy production. Forage for grazing is now more abundant.
These outcomes have attracted much attention and visits from interested groups ranging from students to conservation organizations to neighbors, all of whom have been excited and encouraged by what has been achieved. Whether it has been 20-year-old volunteers from the Montana Conservation Corps or students from the Teton Outdoor Science School to the countless others who have visited, everyone has taken away a deeper connection to and understanding of the land that sustains us. Additionally the public-private partnership responsible for the O’Dell restoration has contributed to numerous jobs needed to implement this work. Many have contributed to our success, including but not limited to heavy machinery specialists, vegetative ecologists, engineers, hydrologists and biologists.
It is reassuring that the AGO report calls for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. I know firsthand the difficulty in funding worthy projects that could have tremendous and lasting public benefits. While fund monies have not been used in association with the O’Dell Project, they have on other working lands in Montana. I look forward to seeing how the Obama administration implements the AGO initiative, particularly the tools that align resources, flexible government programs and willing landowners so that more working landscapes can be protected through grassroots collaborative efforts.
Below, “The Restoration of the O’Dell Creek Headwaters”:
Jeff Laszlo is an owner of the Granger Ranches in Montana’s Madison Valley, a traditional cattle ranch which has been in his family for four generations.