The Blackfoot Challenge | Ovando, Montana
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The Blackfoot Challenge interpretive center in tiny Ovando shows you how ranchers, anglers, and public agencies allied to save 80,000 natural acres (32,000 hectares) from exurban sprawl. By focusing on the 80 percent that partners agree upon, this collaborative group tackles noxious weeds, restores waterways, sustains traditional ranchlands, promotes wildlife recovery, engages wildland volunteers, educates youth, practices sustainable forestry, and fosters community-based conservation.
A few years ago the University of Alberta did a study on native northern prairie grasses and determined that the Blackfoot Valley was one of only five in the northern Rockies where any substantial sections of untouched prairie grasslands remained. An upper arm of Glacial Lake Missoula and glaciers from the north are evident in the topography. The pastoral landscape shows a culture rich in ranching operations with timber management evident in the foothills. Through it all runs the Blackfoot River, the famed location of Norman Maclean's novella, "A River Runs Through It."
Through the Blackfoot Challenge, a nonprofit organization, private landowners have taken the lead and public agencies followed in a shared goal-to keep large landscapes intact and rural lifestyles vital. They focus on the 80 percent that folks agree on and not the 20 percent that might divide them. They leave egos at the door, listen well, don't rush and find the common ground before acting.
The Blackfoot Challenge is a landowner-based group that coordinates management of the Blackfoot River, its tributaries, and adjacent lands. It is organized locally and known nationally as a model for preserving the rural character and natural beauty of a watershed. Although its charter dates to 1993, Blackfoot landowners have played an instrumental stewardship role since the late 1970s—bringing conservation easement legislation, walk-in hunting areas and recreation corridor management to Montana.
The mission of the Blackfoot Challenge is to coordinate efforts that will enhance, conserve and protect the natural resources and rural lifestyles of the Blackfoot River Valley for present and future generations. We support environmentally responsible resource stewardship through cooperation of private and public interests. Private landowners, federal and state land managers, local government officials, and corporate landowners compose the informal membership. All share a common vision of how the Challenge operates in the Blackfoot watershed and believe that we can achieve success by building trust, partnerships, and working together.