For decades, conservationists in Montana have focused on protecting large landscapes and its wildlife using a variety of tools. Successes are many — beginning with wilderness areas secured in the 1960-70s and subsequent protections safeguarded through legislation and public agency administrative processes. Thanks to skilled and determined conservationists across those decades, Montana retains an intact cohort of wildlife from grizzly bears to wolves, wolverine and lynx, as well as functioning ecosystems.

However, climate, demographic and land use changes threaten to disrupt Montana’s species and ecosystems. Habitat loss, invasive species and landscape fragmentation contribute to declining species richness, while climate change accelerates habitat alteration, disrupting migration patterns and impacting communities through flood, drought and fire. These reinforcing crises, biodiversity loss and climate change, undermine ecosystem function and threaten Montana’s people, wildlife and landscapes.

Kendeda’s Montana program goals included protecting the natural environment, strengthening community leadership, and educating residents and decision-makers on conservation, economic and community issues. By supporting those with decades of success, innovative partners and communities with a strong stewardship ethic, Kendeda has been a champion of community-based conservation in service to the vision of an ecologically, economically and culturally thriving Montana.

Key Themes

Within this context, five instructive themes emerged from the conversations with Kendeda's conservation partners. They are summarized below.

  1. Collaboration “is not a zero-sum effort.” Participants — ranchers, agency land managers, Indigenous communities, rural leaders and decision-makers, must be part of co-created solutions that include economic, social, cultural and conservation considerations to sustain gains over time. Also, given the complexity of the issues — fire risk, flood, drought and the concomitant economic and social implications — additional voices like community planners, housing specialists, and transportation experts may need to join deliberations.
  2. Connecting landscapes is key to building ecological resilience and may stem biological diversity loss and abate climate change risks to communities. Restoring and increasing landscape and habitat resiliency can only be accomplished across a patchwork of land ownership, public, tribal and private land ownership, and will necessitate new tools, relationships and approaches.
  3. Community-based engagement and advocacy inspires action and creates change through meaningful relationships, finding common ground, and spending time in conversation. Connecting more community voices such as local decision-makers, neighbors, and civic leaders for collective action is essential to advance community and ecological resilience. Despite the urgency of the current crises, the time invested in stakeholder-driven, community-based conversation is essential for durable outcomes.
  4. A diversity of place-based perspectives is critical. The voices of Indigenous and rural leaders, youth activists, business owners, etc. need to be part of crafting solutions for lasting outcomes. Montana is blessed with large, mostly intact landscapes, which conservationists have successfully protected over the past 30+ years. However, increasing pressures brought on by climate change, growth, and landscape fragmentation present new and immediate challenges. Protecting and connecting landscapes through co-created solutions by impacted community members presents the conservation community with a ‘both/and’ opportunity. Pace and patience, urgency combined with relationship-based deliberation offers more potential for tailored and creative solutions.
  5. Montana’s skilled conservation organizations are facing many pressures. Their decades of accomplishment are indelibly inked across the Montana landscape and supporting their continued success will continue the decades-long tradition of Montana’s “clean and healthful environment” into the future. Interviewees noted that significant organizational pressures and transitions include generational leadership transitions, pandemic-related workplace flux, Montana’s housing crunch impacting housing affordability and compensation, and market volatility and inflation roiling charitable giving by foundations and individuals.