Nathan Korb on healthy rivers, complexity & a path forward
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Where do you live?
I live in Helena. I’ve worked in water conservation and land conservation in the Upper Missouri Headwaters since 1999, starting in the Centennial Valley of Montana.
What is your profession?
I’m the Freshwater Director for The Nature Conservancy in Montana. I focus on trying to maintain healthy rivers in Montana. Our work really touches down in the Upper Missouri Headwaters. I work to maintain enough cold clean water for these rivers, as well as try to restore these rivers so they function more naturally to meet the demands put on them by both nature and people. I got into rivers because they are the lifeblood of the region. They are some of the most productive and dynamic parts of the region — they link all the different stakeholders together. Rivers are an exciting place to work.
What do you do for fun?
I love to get out on rivers, float on rivers, and snorkel on rivers. To be honest I hate fishing. The last thing I want to do when I’m out on a big, beautiful river is try to tie tiny knots with my big, meaty fingers.
How are you connected to the Ruby Valley or surrounding area?
The Nature Conservancy launched our freshwater program in 2016. Prior to that we were more focused on land. To explicitly focus on water was a new thing for us. With that, we quickly recognized how important the tributaries in this area are, particularly the Big Hole River and the Ruby River. My connection with the river is really through my connection and relationship with people and place.
Why are you a member of the RVSA?
I’m a member of the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance because it’s really unique to have a forum for landowners, producers, and conservation groups to come together and take on really hard issues like politics and philosophy. As long as all these other great people keep showing up, it’s really worth my time to be there.
What is the vision and goals for the RVSA?
I think creating a vision for what this place might look like 20 years from now and working our way back from that vision is a pretty compelling idea for what brings us together. The most important thing is to have a common vision and know what we bring something of value.
What do you see as some of your key accomplishments?
Good conversations, better rapport, better dialogue. All those enable us to move forward and work toward measurable outcomes.
What do you think others can learn from RVSA, and want to be sure people know about the RVSA?
Anytime you hear someone talking simply about an issue, as if there’s only one side or it’s a simple solution, you have to know they are missing something. It takes a lot of courage and trust to get into the complexity — get into the details. We need to do the hard work to get into the details; that’s where we are going to come up with durable solutions. I hope people come away realizing it’s possible to find solutions that are going to work more than for just themselves. I respect everyone in that room for showing up over and over and putting in the time to understand different perspectives.
Most of the tough issues we face are complicated. Those details are best dealt with locally by people who understand them inside and out. That’s where decisions should really be made. Top-down decisions coming from D.C. or Helena aren’t going to take into account details that people who live and work on this land know. This group has built a strong foundation of local stakeholders working together to provide that essential local perspective to decision makers.
"It takes a lot of courage and trust to get into the complexity — get into the details. We need to do the hard work to get into the details; that’s where we are going to come up with durable solutions."
What have you been surprised by in your work in the RVSA?
The fact that people keep showing up. There’s been a real, dedicated, and consistent effort to show up, year after year.
What is your hope for the future of the Ruby Valley?
That the community and stakeholders can develop a compelling vision that preserves the history, traditions, wild places, and animals of the valley and navigates the challenges of climate change, drought, and increasing development pressures. Whether we’re talking wildfires, rivers running dry, or ranches being driven out of business, the threats we face are urgent and working together is critical to find real solutions.
As your time with the RVSA comes to an end, what are your takeaways from this group?
As the world around us is changing faster than ever, we are hindered by old modes of thinking and political dogmas. We need new ideas and new partnerships to craft solutions that protect all we value about the Ruby. Learning is a two-way street and the more I am open to understanding others, the more they will be willing to hear my contributions. The RVSA is a forum for learning that is dedicated to forging real solutions to urgent problems, and I believe it represents a model for a path forward.
"The RVSA is a forum for learning that is dedicated to forging real solutions to urgent problems, and I believe it represents a model for a path forward."
What is your personal theme and/or walk song?
Can’t Hold Us - Macklemore
Thank You, Nathan!
As Nathan wraps up his time working with the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance, we want to say a big thank you. Nathan's dedication, ability to inject humor at the perfect moments, and commitment since the very start of the group has shaped the RVSA into the tight-knit collaborative we are today. We wish him the best in his future adventures and will miss him and his trusty pup sidekick, Stella.