A Wolf Creek-area ranching family was among three recognized this week by Gov. Brian Schweitzer for demonstrating exceptional land stewardship.

Lisa and Mike Bay, who ranch north of Wolf Creek, along with Jim Dinsmore of Hall and Irene and John Weaver of Ovando earned the Montana Neighbor Awards.

“I was happy even to be considered for this,” said Mike Bay, representing the fourth generation ranching the land.

According to the nominating letter for the Bays written by Bebe Crouse of The Nature Conservancy, the Bays have a long record of working closely with their neighbors as well as public agencies in the area. 

“For decades, the Bays have managed their ranch with a goal of enhancing wildlife habitat at the same time as producing high quality beef,” Crouse wrote. “As one of the first FWP easement holders, they early on adopted a wildlife-friendly, rest-rotation grazing regime. Their restoration of riparian areas and re-creation of a small wetland on the property has been a boon for wildlife, in particular threatened grassland birds.

“They were deeply committed to conservation practices long before there were any financial incentives to encourage them,” she wrote. “It really is part of their personal belief system.”

Thanks to their example, other neighbors have considered and implemented similar protections they might have previously viewed with suspicion, she wrote.

Bay said he’s seen the disruption of elk migration routes by development, and public sanctuaries like national parks and wilderness areas alone cannot protect wildlife.

“Private land is very integral to the ability of these populations to move around,” he said, adding that’s where conservation easements are an important tool.

Each of the honorees received certificates signed by members of the awards committee and by Schweitzer. The document features a photograph by pioneer photographer Evelyn Cameron, showing a hay crew working with horse-drawn wagons in the early 1900s.

The ranchers were named by a committee comprised of members of the Montana Alliance of Land Trusts, Artemis Common Ground, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, the Nature Conservancy of Montana, the Montana Council of Trout Unlimited and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086 or sanjay.talwani@helenair.com


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