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John Helle on Shared Values, Inter-generational Knowledge and Sustainable Management


Where do you live?


Outside of Dillon in southwest Montana on our family ranch.


What is your profession?


I manage a sheep ranch and other enterprises associated with the ranch. We run a vertically integrated clothing brand called Duckworth that originates on the sheep ranch. We produce and manage the production of wool and wool fabrics and finished garments in Duckworth.


The sheep ranch uses different management practices with the sheep including targeted grazing to genetic and breeding stock and lamb production.


We grow our hay and grains and raise cows.


What do you do for fun?

Anything outdoors especially in the snow. I love to ride motorcycles and ski.


I have fun hanging out with my four children and three grandsons.


We combine ranch activities and family-orientated excursions as much as possible.



How are you connected to the Ruby Valley or surrounding area?


Our sheep operation has been summering in the Gravellies since late the 1930s. My grandpa and uncle started ranching in Beaverhead and Madison counties. I’ve taken on this tradition of summering in Gravellies.


The operation is managed in different locations depending on the season. We are in the Sweetwater during the spring and fall. In the winter, we are in the Beaverhead Valley. We built this operation by connecting farms and parcels to make it what it is today.


Why are you a member of the RVSA?


A sustainable future is important. I realized we had a lot in common with some of the conservation groups. Turns out we have the same end goals. The difference is that we may get to them in different ways. But in the end, we are all concerned about the Ruby Valley remaining healthy and free of development.


We want to keep it the last best place in the country. We strengthen our efforts by working with like-minded organizations with similar expectations to protect the land from becoming developed.



I appreciate that we found people in conservation to work with. They help us get the message out that ranching protects and enhances the landscape.


What about the vision and goals of the RVSA most resonates with you?


The RVSA works with the land management agencies on public lands to enhance their ability to apply the right management tools to make the country more resilient and responsive so that it is sustainable.


Agencies are strapped with litigation problems. They experience many encumbrances that restrict them from being responsive to the needs of the land. The RVSA brings in the expertise of land management to help agencies work with ranchers to make the land more productive and sustainable.



"We strengthen our efforts by working with like-minded organizations with similar expectations to protect the land from becoming developed."

What do you see as some of your key accomplishments?


The RVSA brought awareness to several issues. An important one is that we can’t leave the landscape to weed encroachment without managing it. We talk about wildfire as a management tool. We continue to talk about and work to prevent ranchlands from being sold for development.


The RVSA works to make sure actions on the land are good for the land. We help agencies to apply grazing and fire and management with a purpose. I have a sustainable grazing operation and that’s important.


The RVSA is proactive in land management and policy.


What do you look forward to working with this group?


I look forward to continuing to build relationships with smart and talented people not in the livestock community. By working together, we have the means to help bring awareness to the importance of working landscapes.


We’ve been together for six years now. These relationships aren’t built overnight. They need to be nurtured and accomplished by having hard conversations and developing trust.


"Ranching as a sustainable operation is a way of approaching that. The RVSA is proactive in land management and policy."





What do you think others could learn from the RVSA?


It takes a lot of work to develop relationships and commitment to the process. Get together, have courteous conversations, and listen to diverse thoughts. We all have a commitment to the land.


What do you want people to be sure people know about the RVSA?


The RVSA takes the time and energy to provide thoughtful solutions to challenges. At times, we are hampered to manage the land properly.


We take time and thoughtfulness as to how we approach complex problems. We are sure to include diverse and well-thought-out processes, recommendations, and solutions to landscape-scale problems. We work to be effective ranchers and stewards of the landscape.


I’m in ranching for sustainability and maintaining economic viability for ranching businesses.


What have you been surprised by in your work with the RVSA?


I’m surprised all of the members are able to make the time to make this a priority. So many other groups like this lose momentum and commitment. In the RVSA, we developed lasting relationships. You can see the results in the meetings. Everybody shows up, participates, and works on a committee. Over time, we have stayed committed and maintained a diverse group of interests and individuals.


What is your hope for the future of the Ruby Valley?


I hope ranching operations that are a backbone of the economy and communities continue to thrive and livestock operations transfer to the next generation. Generational knowledge is so important to the management of the land. It takes a large commitment from the family to make it viable and sustainable. The next generation taking on the business is important for a sustainable operation.


We all must embrace inevitable change, but we can direct change for the better. We just need to recognize signs that will have a detrimental impact on the landscape. Then we can mitigate the damage.


What is your personal theme song and/or theme song?


I love old timeless music from rock to country that tells a story of life.


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