The Partnerscapes Blog by Steve Jester

Private Lands Partners Day 2023 – A Homecoming

Last week folks from all over the country gathered in western Montana for the 15th annual Private Lands Partners Day. This year’s meeting returned to the original location and the beginning of Partners for Conservation, which became Partnerscapes. The Blackfoot Watershed, and the highly regarded and accomplished community-based collaborative conservation effort called the Blackfoot Challenge, were the true hosts of the event, even though attendees stayed in Missoula.

The event started with a reception at the Wilma Theater in Missoula where three short films were screened, including Thank You Conservation Partners by NRCS featuring three conservation partnerships with USDA NRCS; Uncrossed Arms from the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance; and A Landscape of Hope from the Blackfoot Challenge. Each video featured a live introduction by key partners in the room, and as a very special treat, the film A Landscape of Hope was introduced live by Blackfoot Watershed conservation pioneers and legends Land Lindbergh and Hank Goetz.

Wednesday was an all-day field trip that included lunch and dinner in the Blackfoot Valley visiting the communities of Helmville and Ovando. Attendees visited four different ranches and heard a broad spectrum of speakers, including landowners and land managers as well as agency, NGO, and community partners all working on shared goals that revolve around the three legs of the collaborative conservation stool: ecology, economy, and social aspects of human communities.

Thursday attendees were back in Missoula in a conference setting, which began with a welcome from conservation leaders including Tom McDonald, Chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, along with presentations including a moving (and raucous) retelling of the origin story of Partners for Conservation/Partnerscapes. Presentations also featured the story of the Old Salt Coop from Cole Mannix as well as stories that included both science and the art of conservation implementation on the topics of woody encroachment and removing barriers to big game migrations. During lunch, attendees heard from Juanita Vero, a Missoula County Commissioner and part of the management group of the E Bar L guest ranch. In the afternoon, the attendees heard collaborative conservation stories from around the country, including California, Alaska, Wisconsin and Oregon. The event concluded with a dinner and auction (thank you Kevin Ertl) featuring a keynote from another collaborative conservation legend, Lynn Scarlett, formerly of The Nature Conservancy and the Department of Interior.

A short report is being developed and will be shared in a newsletter in the near future, but you will also be able to catch some of the sights and sounds of the meeting through photos and videos that Partnerscapes will share through social media and through the Partnerscapes Conservation Network Facebook Group.

On a personal note, the places, people, communities, and partnerships that exist in this place are truly special and critically important to the fine art of collaborative conservation nationally. The six weeks I spent working in the Blackfoot Valley over 15 years ago changed my understanding of both what was possible and how critically important focal people were for successful partnerships. My wish is that the over 200 attendees were all part of an experience that they were able to carry back with them as they returned to their partnerships and important work at home. Hope to see you all next year in Oregon! Mark your calendars for October 6-9, 2024.