Eleven landowners from across Montana were recognized at the Capitol Tuesday as being good neighbors for their commitment to land access and stewardship.
During the 2016 Montana Neighbor Award ceremony, Gov. Steve Bullock told the recipients and attendees that the award was one of his favorites because it embodies and recognizes how lucky Montanans are for a shared sense of community in accessing nature. Efforts from the recipients to allow access and conservation-minded stewardship, along with a willingness to help neighbors or strangers, made them leaders in neighborliness, he said.
“Thanks to the actions of the award recipients being recognized today, we are that much closer to and able to preserve those things for the next generation,” Bullock said.
The governor presented six awards sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, Artemis Common Ground, the Montana Association of Land Trusts, Montana Council of Trout Unlimited, the governor’s office, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Chris King, a representative of the ranching community.
Doug Salsbury of Whitehall was not in attendance, but the cattle rancher was recognized for his participation in Block Management and leasing a portion of his property to the Jefferson Valley Sportsman Association for a community gun range.
Neil and Dixie Meyer of Swan Lake ranch along the Swan River and were honored for opening up their land and buildings for educational tours.
Debby and Joe Perry recently placed a conservation easement on their land east of Brady. Decades of conservation work provide habitat for waterfowl and upland birds, as well as other wildlife. The Perrys are friends of public access, granting permission for hunting and hosting youth hunting opportunities.
Debby’s grandfather homesteaded, and both she and Joe were born and raised in the area.
Although it takes some extra time during hunting season, they don’t mind and try to allow as many people access as they ethically can, Joe said.
“Farmers and ranchers were the original conservationists, and we really get a lot of pleasure from it and we’ve never taken a dime for allowing hunting,” he said.
Randy and Emily Smith manage grazing on their land to benefit wildlife on neighboring public land, including the Fleecer Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The family allows public hunting on their land and worked with BLM and local sportsmen’s groups to build a road across their ranch to access large tracts of federal land.
Dodson ranchers Gerald “Buddy” and Sheila Walsh have worked cooperatively with the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, TNC and the World Wildlife Fund to help gather wildlife information on their property.
Tim Crawford and Kathy Hansen, along with manager Lane Quandt, ranch along the East Gallatin River. Their award highlights efforts to make working agriculture and wildlife habitat part of the same landscape, which is protected by a conservation easement. The ranch also allows public access for fishing on the river.
Crawford reflected on the conflict between recreationists and Ruby River rancher James Cox Kennedy as the latter sought to challenge Montana’s stream access law. While Cox Kennedy fought to keep people out, Crawford placed a sign on a bridge welcoming the public to access the river that ran through his property, he said.
“Everything you give to your community is really an act of selfishness because you get to live in that improved community,” he said.
The governor hoped the awardees would inspire others to become good neighbors in putting others’ needs ahead of their own. They did not become good neighbors to receive a framed award, but it is because of who they are as Montanans, he said.
“It’s so often that we hear about gates going up, access being denied by somebody trying to keep everyone else away,” Bullock said. “But these are shining examples, and not the only folks, but shining examples of what the Montana way is really all about.”