Where Public Lands Meet Working Ranches
As part of the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance, we're partnering with ranchers to protect the outdoor traditions of the wild Snowcrest Mountains
Outside of hunting season, the wild Snowcrest Recommended Wilderness in southwest Montana sees few people. Rising from the valley bottom, the grasslands give way to Douglas fir, limber pine, aspen, spruce, and fir before turning into wild and rugged peaks well over 10,000 feet high. The range is home to a rich diversity of wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, black bears, moose, mule deer, mountain lions, Swainson’s hawks, and golden eagles.
The area was historically a common shared hunting grounds of the Pikuni (Blackfeet), A’aninin (Gros-Ventre), Sélish (Bitterroot Salish), Qlispé (Pend d’Oreille), and Apsáalooke (Crow) tribes. Now, the headwaters for the Ruby River provide for irrigation and trout fisheries downstream. From the crest of the range, one can find solitude and prime vistas of surrounding mountain ranges and the Ruby valley below.
Public Land and Working Ranches
Home to some of Montana’s oldest working ranches, the Ruby Valley’s wide open rangeland and rugged high country provide seasonal wildlife habitat and captivating views. Private land makes up 39% of the Ruby watershed, while 61% is managed by state and federal agencies. Many of these ranching operations rely on adjacent public land grazing permits, some of which date back almost a century. Without public lands grazing, many operations would fail, opening up that private land to the threat of development.
Ensuring that both public lands and working ranches remain intact and viable is essential to maintaining open space, wildlife populations, clean water, and strong rural communities. This quiet landscape in southwest Montana retains traditions and a way of life that is quickly disappearing as nearby communities undergo significant growth.
In 2016 a group of conservationists and ranchers started working together in recognition that public lands and working ranches in the Ruby are inextricably tied, and management decisions regarding both can be strengthened through partnerships. This group, known as the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance (RVSA), strives to maintain and enhance the stewardship and management of the greater Ruby landscape. By determining shared values and committing to a positive dialogue, we can help ensure that future generations will be able to experience the open space and wildlands so essential to our way of life.
The notion of ranchers and conservationists working together is not novel. Montanans have worked together on land management solutions in places like the Blackfoot River Valley and the Rocky Mountain Front for decades. We believe community-driven collaborative efforts are vital for maintaining not just Montana’s wild backcountry and working ranchlands, but also our outdoor heritage.
For more information about the RVSA, please contact MWA southwest Montana field director Emily Cleveland.