Audra Bell on collaboration, balance & preserving the Ruby for future generations
Where do you live?
I live in Sheridan, Montana – the heart of the Ruby Valley.
Where do you work or what is your profession?
I work in the Ruby Valley as the stewardship director for the Ruby Valley Conservation District (RVCD). This position with the Conservation District has allowed me to follow my passion for watershed preservation.
The Conservation District serves the Ruby Watershed and parts of the Beaverhead, Big Hole, and Jefferson watersheds. Our work is catered to ensuring the landscape we call home is viable for generations to come while protecting the legacy of the past. Our projects range from river and floodplain restoration to upland restoration to providing products and services for local landowners.
We are thankful to have the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance’s support for many of our projects. A few specific projects that the alliance has influenced are the Livestock Carcass Composting Site and the Upper Ruby Weed Cooperative Project. Without the support, we would have not been able to get these projects off the ground!
What do you do for fun?
I love hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, and now hunting in southwest Montana – you name it, I have tried it! On my down days, I enjoy spending time cuddled up with my pup, Sparrow, and a good book or knitting needles.
How are you connected to the Ruby Valley?
I moved here to be the Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) member for the Ruby Valley Conservation District in January of 2020 – at the time I thought, oh my gosh, I am moving to the middle of nowhere! When I finally arrived, I realized this landscape is absolutely stunning and the more work I can do to preserve this for future generations, I want to stay here, and I want to be doing that. After my BSWC term, my love for the landscape had me searching for a full-time position in the valley. After discussion with the RVCD board, I was hired as the stewardship director for the Conservation District.
I recreate a lot out here – I hunt, fish, ski, and hike – so ultimately, working with likeminded landowners and stakeholders who love to spend time on the landscape is a passion of mine. Oftentimes, we work to find a balance of the human footprint versus preserving the landscape for future generations.
"Having the balance between conservation and ranching perspectives, hearing both sides and meeting in the middle, bringing those two voices together to have a shared vision moving forward is a strength of the alliance."
Why are you a member of the RVSA?
It was something that my predecessor joined and assisted with. Many of our board members at the Ruby Valley Conservation District are also involved in the RVSA, so there’s a couple of different reasons for why I came into this.
Personally, I think the cooperative effort to achieve landscape preservation is really great, especially the aspect of collaboration between conservation groups, agencies, nonprofits, and ranchers. Having the balance between conservation and ranching perspectives, hearing both sides and meeting in the middle, bringing those two voices together to have a shared vision moving forward is a strength of the alliance. It has been an honor to join and participate in the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance.
What is the vision and goals for the RVSA?
Preserving the landscape for future generations. I know there’s going to be a lot of challenges coming up in the future with climate change, urban sprawl, and wildlife conflict. This group is trying to find a healthy balance for addressing these issues so we can move forward with the shared vision.
What do you see as some of the key accomplishments of the RVSA?
Collaboration. That is one of our biggest accomplishments. With the range of perspectives at the table, we are all able to share our perspectives on the issues facing the landscape.
What do you look forward to while working with the group?
I look forward to helping everyone in the group out and doing it in a respectful manner. With the goals that we’ve outlined, there are many that address issues in ways that are beneficial to the local communities in the future.
Specifically, I’m looking forward to working on the designations committee and preserving our wild lands – keeping the landscape undeveloped and protecting wildlife.
"We have seen the RVSA gain notoriety within Montana and become a mechanism for making lasting, positive impacts on the landscape. Working groups such as the RVSA can and will be foundations for change to occur in the future."
What is something that others can learn from the RVSA?
The benefits of collaborative effort. It is remarkable to see a large group of individuals with very different perspectives coming together for a specific goal. You can get whatever you want done, or sure as heck try.
The RVSA is a fundamental working group focused on making policy changes at the local and even national level. Each meeting, we discuss issues that many of Montana’s watersheds are facing. We have seen the RVSA gain notoriety within Montana and become a mechanism for making lasting, positive impacts on the landscape. Working groups such as the RVSA can and will be foundations for change to occur in the future. I think it is imperative for all landscapes to have a similar advocacy group so they can stay on top of the issues facing different landscapes.
What do you want to be sure people know about the RVSA?
There are so many people coming together from different perspectives, productively talking about issues facing the valley.
This valley is so unique in the fact that we’re all willing to donate our time and knowledge to help out others. Our situation with water this year (this interview was conducted in 2021) has been interesting, and hopeful. The Ruby Valley Water Users Association members have been volunteering to reduce their water usage and put water back into the Ruby River to keep the fish alive, to help the guiding outfits, and ultimately keep 20 cfs (cubic feet per second) in the river. It’s been an honor to watch everyone interact in our valley.
What is your hope for the future of the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance?
My hope is that we are able to actually address our goals. Moving forward, I’d love to see policy changes for the betterment of the community and landscape.
What is your personal theme song and/or walk song?
Baba O’Riley, The Who