|By Caroline Lupfer Kurtz
Nestled into the base of the majestic Rocky
Mountain Front, the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch seems an unchanging, elemental
place, where the rhythms of ranch life follow the endless cycles of weather, and people
and cattle share the land with a diversity of wildlife.
The place has magic, no doubt, says Jack Ward Thomas, Boone and Crockett
Professor of Wildlife Conservation at UM. To be there is to imagine the old north
trail of the Blackfeet Indians, imagine the journeys of Lewis and Clark. You can see
history in the place, envision the buffalo that once were here and encounter every other
But while the landscape seems eternal, the work of the ranch is immersed in present day
issues of conservation research, education and practice.
Humans have to exploit their environment in order to live; thats a
given, Thomas says. The question is, How do we do it in a rational,
To this end, he says, the ranch, owned by the Boone and Crockett Club since 1985, has
three purposes: to demonstrate that profitable ranching operations also can accommodate
wildlife; to provide a place for UM students, faculty and others to conduct research on
the relationship among livestock operations, wildlife needs and vegetation; and to develop
and offer conservation-oriented curricula to K-12 students and teachers.
Founded more than a century ago by Theodore Roosevelt, the invitation-only Boone and
Crockett Club is the oldest conservation organization in the United States and the
official keeper of statistics on rifle-killed North American big game. Although UM is the
prime beneficiary of the Roosevelt Ranch and associated endowment, the facilities also are
available for researchers from state and federal agencies and other universities.
Recent UM studies have included the ecology of limber pine, a species well adapted to
the harsh, windy conditions of the Front; the habitat requirements and population dynamics
of westslope cutthroat trout, which inhabit Dupuyer Creek on the ranch; research on
various birds; and cost-benefit analyses of grazing methods.
Robert and Kelly Peebles have been running the 6,000-acre operation since 1989. They
manage a herd of 200 Angus cattle twice that number in the summertime. In doing so
they are providing long-term documentation on the separate and combined effects of grazing
by deer, elk and cattle on range vegetation. Peebles makes these results available to
other interested ranchers.
Similarly, he keeps track of predators, adjusting some of his management practices to
reflect the reality of living in proximity to grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves and
coyotes. Sometimes he feels caught between protecting wildlife and protecting his and
Wildlife management is really people management, he says, meaning that
for certain protected species such as grizzlies and wolves the public must
come to understand the necessary balance between wildlife and humans.
Peebles is happy to discuss wildlife and ranching issues with visitors and to grant
permission to cross ranch land to reach the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The public is welcome
to hike a short nature trail built by local volunteers on ranch property. The ranch also
participates in the states Block Management hunting program, and hunters can call
Peebles to reserve a date in the fall. He gives priority to hunters under 18. (Boone and
Crockett members, however, are never allowed to hunt at the ranch.)
The major educational efforts of the ranch are conducted by Lisa Flowers, Boone and
Crockett education specialist and a certified Montana science teacher. Each spring and
fall she guides half- or full-day field trips for local students and in the summer offers
for-credit workshops for teachers.
I try to tie the field trips in with whatever the kids are learning about the
out-of-doors, Flowers says. After an introduction to the ranch by Peebles, Flowers
takes her charges into the field to look at the vegetation, water, climate geology and
biodiversity and engages the students in some hands-on activities.
The ranchs educational outreach will get a boost at the end of the summer with
the completion of a more than 5,000-square-foot educational center. The new building,
funded with grants from The Mellon Foundation and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, will
accommodate up to 30 people overnight and contain a lecture room, exhibit area and wet
lab/activity area. Thomas says he hopes to extend use of the facility to other groups,
such as the Montana Stockgrowers Association or the Nature Conservancy, whenever it is not
being used for educational or research purposes.
The next step will be to take some of the conservation curriculum developed at the
ranch on the road. Thomas has received funding to begin an exchange program involving
Montana and Texas teachers in cooperation with the Welder Wildlife Foundation, which runs
a similar ranching and educational operation near Sinton, Texas. He has submitted another
proposal to do the same thing in Colorado.
The idea, Thomas says, is to combine teachers from both states and spend a week in each
place learning about wildlife and management issues in different contexts.
Wed give them two sets of experiences to draw on, he says, and
show them how climate, topography, social history and economic and political conditions
can affect management practices and conservation efforts.
Weve done the ground work, he says. Now its time to