This is the Big Hole River in southwest Montana. It winds out of the Beaverhead Mountains near Lemhi Pass and represents the farthest west the Missouri River watershed extends. Lewis and Clark came this way in 1805 on their way west to the Pacific Ocean.
These days, the Big Hole has a lot of demands. Ranchers use its water to irrigate their hay crops so they can raise cattle. And anglers are big fans of the Big Hole, pulling out trophy trout. And environmentalists are tied to the river because it is also home to the rare arctic grayling. Sometimes, there’s not enough river to go around and tempers can get short.
But what thrills me is that government organizations like Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks have gotten together with ranchers and other agencies over coffee and realized that they all care about the land. Ranchers are essential to the success of any preservation efforts. They live on the land. They know it. And they understand their success depends on good land stewardship. And the agencies all want the ranchers to stay, to thrive even, because they are the best people to have living on the land — far better than resort owners, condo renters, corporation conglomerates.
So the agencies and the ranches began to get together for coffee. They found lots of common ground. The agencies listened to the ranchers, the ranchers listened to the agencies and it looks like there’s a solution in the works where the ranchers can use less water, make more money, and the agencies can have a good fishery and a healthy river.
Emma Cayer represents Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks in the area. She’s one of the reasons the effort is working so well.