Consisting of a partnership of public land managers, state wildlife agencies, landowners, local community leaders, scientists and conservation groups, the High Divide Collaborative (HDC) works to conserve and restore lands of importance for local communities and to protect ecological integrity at the landscape scale. The HDC is facilitated by the Heart of the Rockies Initiative. Mike Whitfield of the Initiative best sums up the essence of HDC in saying that it is simply, but profoundly “taking the power of community based conservation to landscape scale.”

We recently attended the HDC meeting in Dillon, Montana. The two-day event featured a number of presenters, panels of speakers, and covered a variety of land-use and working-land topics including various angles on forests, grazing, and recreation.

Though there were many noteworthy insights and applicable takeaways from the HDC meeting, the panel discussion on the “The Benefits of Sustaining Working Ranches in the High Divide” featuring Zakery Miller (Idaho Farm Bureau), Stacey Barta (Rangeland Resource Program Coordinator with the Montana Department of Natural Resource Conservation), Merrill Beyeler (Beyeler Ranches, Leadore, ID), Eric Kalsta (Kalsta Ranches, Glen, MT), and Jim Hagenbarth (Hagenbarth Livestock, Dillon, MT).

The panelists discussed the conservation of working ranchlands at it relates primarily to adaptation to changes in climate. Many of them cited the timing of runoff and length of frost-free days as changes occurring in the specific landscapes where they ranch. The panelists identified that though the operations to adapt on each ranch will be site specific, there is merit in collaborating. Erid Kalsta, who also is involved with the Big Hole Watershed Committee, suggested a few specific ideas to help ranchers adapt to the changes mentioned above:

  • Changing the period of use on water rights to better match the runoff period changes; 
  • Look into the creation and use of infiltration ponds as used in the southwest to help with potential drought conditions or late season shortages and recharge the groundwater; and,
  • Implement multifaceted irrigation plans such as a flood and sprinkler combination instead of a fully “efficient” sprinkler system – flooding during times of high water to add water back into the system and recharge the groundwater.

In all their discussion was insightful, applicable, and encouraging. Merrill Beyeler may have said it best in saying, “that’s what we do as ranchers - we adapt. It’s not the smartest person that will sustain, it’s the one that can adapt.” 


This blog initially appeared as in the Pfister Land Company, LLC Blog and is reprinted for the use of Topos & Anthros, LLC.