My wife and I were married underneath a canopy of golden willows that my great-great grandfather planted. We held our reception across the creek inside a century old shearing shed. That space of sweat and toil, which likely had never seen celebration beyond the odd shared dram of post-shearing whisky, transformed then into a venue of jubilance. Most of our guests had never before set foot in a shearing plant, and to share an essential piece of Montana’s economic and cultural history with our wedding guests made that personal day all the more meaningful.
My parents named me after a place on our family ranch that was homesteaded by Welsh brothers. Needless to say, the ranch is not only a part of my work but an indelible part of my identity. The ranch has survived as a family-owned working landscape into my generation—the fifth—because each generation has treated it as an heirloom, as an almost sacred entity that surpasses our needs as individuals. I was brought up in an ethic of stewardship and conservation, to enhance the land whenever possible and leave it better than how we received it.
Witnessing overgrazed rangeland elsewhere, then, or farmland growing housing developments, or the disappearance of historic ranches and associated recreation opportunities stuns my sensibilities.
With a land trust, my family tackled one of these threats to our ranch. Recognizing the ease with which it could pass out of the family when faced with estate taxes, a generation’s lack of interest, or difficult economics, we crafted a conservation easement on the core ranch to preserve in perpetuity what our family holds most dear about the ranch. A future owner might neglect the responsibility of stewardship, but he may not seek financial gain at the expense of the landscape’s integrity. In effect it codifies our practice of symbiosis—manage in the best interest of the land, grass, water and the wildlife, and you will benefit from a healthy, robust ecosystem that more efficiently converts sunlight into consumable forms of energy—in our case, beef and lamb.
Our ranch is but one small part of this magnificent region. And the threats we face are no less cruel in other areas.
I had the opportunity to join Western Sustainability Exchange in 2009, and I did so with enthusiasm because I believe strongly in the organization’s purpose and method. The same mission my family and I have for the landscape in our charge, WSE has for the Northern Rockies region. It affects stewardship and sustainability on a landscape scale, in means accessible by consumers.
I work on my family’s ranch because I love the land, the lifestyle, the stewardship, the legacy. I work for WSE because I care about preserving all that’s best about Montana and the Northern Rockies, that my daughter and her offspring may enjoy the same bounty.
There’s no telling if our historic sheep sheds will weather another generation. But we can ensure that the land will remain—open, intact, healthy, and supporting a diversity of wildlife, flora, and hopefully too ranch families. That, after all, is my family’s vision. It’s the vision of Western Sustainability Exchange.