MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock today honored the 2017 Montana Neighbor Award winners for their dedication to cooperation, land stewardship, conservation ethic, neighborly land access, and community leadership.
“In Montana, we are blessed with incredible public access so that we can enjoy our spectacular, unspoiled nature. We are also blessed with so many folks throughout our state who are always striving to make our communities better,” said Governor Bullock. “These honorees exhibit the best our state has to offer and show that we do what’s right for future generations by putting others ahead of ourselves.”
Nominees for the award are sought each fall from the public and judged by representatives of the Montana Association of Land Trust, Artemis Common Ground, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, The Nature Conservancy of Montana, the Montana Council of Trout Unlimited, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), and the Governor’s Office.
The concept for the Montana Neighbor Award grew out of a desire to honor and recognize the spirit of community that was a hallmark of Montana’s traditional ranching and rural life.
2017 Montana Neighbor Award Winners:
Mary Louise Peters, Trego
Mary Louise Peters manages a ranch that contains a mile of the Fortine Creek and borders Forest Service lands. Her and her late-husband, Jack, placed a conservation easement on the land in 1998. Mary Louise provides access to those lands through the ranch and welcomes Montanans for summer swimming and fishing, and fall hunting for whitetail deer and turkeys. She has also worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the riparian habitat with protective fencing.
Leah Lewis, Boulder
Leah Lewis participates in Block Management through her ranch, hosts children tours, and has worked with the Elk Foundation to improve habitat. She also worked with BLM to install wildlife-friendly fencing. She has served as a member of the collaborative Elkhorn Working Group, and has been a member of the Jefferson County Fair Board for two years.
Chris and Gari King, Winnett
Chris and Gari King work collaboratively on tough issues like water rights and land exchanges with neighbors, BLM, and FWP. The King Ranch allows anyone to hunt, hike, bird-watch, and bird dog trial. The ranch is kept in very good condition for livestock and wildlife, and the King’s strive to maintain the native plants, engage in riparian tree planting, and pursue weed control.
Tom and Barbara Sanders, Philipsburg
Tom and Barbara Sanders own a ranch in Upper Rock Creek and hold a conservation easement with Five Valleys Land Trust. They cooperate closely with their neighbors on day-to-day ranching activities and offer public access and hunting opportunities through Block Management. The Sanders are the fourth generation of the Sanders family to operate a livestock ranch on their property and for over 100 years the rangeland, forests, and wetlands have thrived.
Joseph and Betsy Purcell, Lolo
Joseph and Betsy Purcell have completed a hazardous fuels reduction program and improved wildlife habitat through a Health Forest grant on their ranch. The projects have been instrumental in bringing back fox, pileated woodpeckers, flickers, and even, bald eagles. Deer and elk populations have increased significantly, and simultaneously, enhanced livestock grazing quality. The Purcell Ranch has transformed hundreds of acres of overgrown forests into productive agricultural ground. The ranch hosts mountain bikers, hikers, runners, ATV, horseback riders, sportsman, and wildlife photographers.
Otto Teller, Corvallis
Otto Teller, with the help and support of his wife Anne, started acquiring small farms in the Corvallis area in the 1980s, which now comprises the approximately 1,200-acre Teller Wildlife Refuge. The land has been managed for the benefit of fish and wildlife, conservation education involving youth from the Bitterroot Valley and for producing crops. Additionally, Teller provides Block Management access for archery deer hunters, plus special opportunities for young hunters, and engages in wetland and riparian restoration work.