Where do you live?
We live just east of Sheridan, Montana on Indian Creek.
What do you do for work or what is your profession?
I managed Hamilton Ranches at Twin Bridges for 25 years, until 2013. Prior to 1989, I had cowboyed on the Flying D for about 22 years. And before all that, we’d ranched all our lives. In 2015, we bought a liquor store in Sheridan, so now I’m a Main Street business owner.
When I was ranching, I was involved in the formation of the Big Hole Watershed Committee and was a member for 20 years. We raised a lot of livestock on public lands. We had federal land grazing permits, both Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, so we spent quite a bit of time working with both those agencies. During that time, I became chairman of Montana Public Lands Committee and served in that capacity until 2014.
What do you do for fun?
I don’t have much for hobbies – I've worked all my life. I enjoy time with grandkids and family, whether it’s a barbeque or getting up into the hills.
How are you connected to the Ruby Valley or surrounding area?
We have lived here for about 35 years now. When we left the Gallatin Valley, it was hard because it was home, but at this point in time, it’s hard to imagine going back with the changes and growth. The Ruby Valley has become our home, especially as we’ve become involved with the agricultural community and the Sheridan and Twin Bridges communities.
"Be willing to talk to your neighbor or adversary and see where they are coming from. Try to understand what’s going on before you come in and demand a change."
Why are you a member of the RVSA?
It goes back to probably 2012 or 2013 when Senator Tester had a bill in the hopper to create a large area of Wilderness here in southwest Montana – the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act¹. This Wilderness proposal included a lot of land in our grazing allotments in the Upper Ruby. We had several face-to-face meetings, were writing letters, and trying every means available to effect some changes and never could get anything done or make any progress. One day, Rick Sandru and I were in Helena to testify for a resolution the Montana Legislature was trying to pass, and it just happened that the former District Ranger for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, a representative from Sun Mountain Lumber in Deerlodge, and a Greater Yellowstone Coalition staffer were sitting behind us and were actually there to testify on the other side. We sat and visited with them and out of that conversation, we agreed to meet a few more times to talk about the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. We had several meetings over six to eight months with a growing group of ranchers and conservationists and came up with an agreeable place to move the Wilderness boundaries in the Upper Ruby. The conservation groups took it to Senator Tester and got it done when we couldn’t have done it alone.
We all stayed in touch throughout the next couple years and out of that the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance was formed. I had been involved with the Big Hole Watershed Committee and knew the value of working with the “other side.” I’m sure there are a few issues that we’ll never agree on or work on, but there are also a lot of issues we are very much in agreement on, and we can get something done. It’s much better sitting in the same room talking across the table; at least we’re talking to each other rather than about each other. We have a better understanding of why this side thinks this way and that side thinks that way. Through that collaboration we’ve had some major successes.
What are the vision and goals of the RVSA?
On both sides, the desire is to maintain our way of life to the extent we can and maintain the wildlife habitat and recreation availability, whether that’s hiking, hunting, fishing, or sightseeing. We know we’re not going to stop progress or growth.
What do you see as some of the key accomplishments of the RVSA?
We’ve had success with public outreach and commenting on issues because we are a collaborative group and represent more than agriculture, more than recreation, and more than the environment. Together we’ve got a stronger voice on a lot of issues.
What do you look forward to while working with this group?
I enjoy the discussion of whatever issue may be on the table that day and just hearing everyone’s reasonings and opinions. And maybe it's something we can affect or write a letter about or speak to and have a factor in the outcome.
"I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but I feel a lot of gratification that we are able to work with conservation organizations."
What do you think others could learn from the RVSA?
Be willing to talk to your neighbor or adversary and see where they are coming from. Try to understand what’s going on before you come in and demand a change.
What have you been surprised by in your work with the RVSA?
I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but I feel a lot of gratification that we are able to work with conservation organizations. Nobody’s gotten mad and stomped out the door.
What is your hope for the future of the Ruby Valley?
That we can maintain some of our open space, the lifestyle that we have, and family ranches. The Ruby Valley and the Big Hole are a couple places in the state where there are still some family ranches. There are getting to be fewer and fewer of them, and it’s really a tough business to make a living from, pass on, and keep in the family. The economics of it alone, whether it’s development or other challenges, make it tougher every day.
What is your personal theme song or walk song?
Dave Stamey, Spin That Pony
Don Edwards, The Old Cow Man
¹ The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act was introduced in 2009 as a bill to sustain economic development and recreational use of National Forest lands and other public lands in Montana, to add certain land to the National Wilderness Preservation System, to release certain wilderness study areas, and for other purposes. The bill eventually failed after many years of amendments and debates.