The RSA also specializes in prescribed grazing plans, wildlife-friendly fencing, weed control and prevention, and the re-planting of native grassland. All of these conservation-focused projects are in addition to the educational and community events organized and hosted by the RSA since its inception in 2003. The conservation tools used by the RSA often are bundled together in one project, enabling them to be funded with a combination of grants, agency dollars through Farm Bill programs and agency agreements, as well as landowner in-kind donations.
But the real power of the group is its landowner leadership, according to Marisa Sather, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program biologist who works with the RSA.
“The landowners don’t just have a seat at the table, they are the table,” she said. “That makes it a real gateway to the entire community and brings a level of transparency and openness to what we’re doing.”
As a result of that trust, Sather said, people have shown an immense willingness to collaborate to get work done and learn from each other. This was no different for the stockwater project on Obrecht’s family ranch. According to data from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP), the Louie Petrie Ranch is home to a key migration linkage for pronghorn antelope. FWP, along with Pheasants Forever and NRCS, the Department of Interior (Bureau of Land Management, and USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife through Secretarial Order #3362), and other groups like the National Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy are all working to preserve such connection points in big game migration corridors in north-central Montana through projects like road crossings and installing wildlife-friendly fencing on private ranches like Obrecht’s. Layering one of these fencing projects on top of the stockwater project made it a win-win solution for everyone involved.
Working with landowners like the Obrecht family presents golden opportunities for projects that make it easier for animals like pronghorn and mule deer to move across a landscape, said Brett Dorak, a wildlife biologist for Montana FWP. GPS collar data collected over the years and information on local fencing enables biologists to pinpoint locations like the Louie Petrie Ranch where projects like fence modifications can be most effective.
On top of it all, Dorak said, working with the RSA provides critical connections to landowners and their intimate knowledge of the landscape, which makes this work especially powerful for facilitating big game migrations.
“If there’s good fence and good water, there’s going to be good grass and good forage for everything on the landscape,” he said. “Being able to help incorporate an efficient agricultural system into these projects helps both the livestock and the wildlife out there.”