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Neil Barnosky on credibility, intention & stick-to-it-ness


Where do you live?


I live on a ranch on the Ruby River near Sheridan, Montana. I was born and raised in the Ruby Valley and live in the house I grew up in and where my wife, Gloria, and I raised our family. The ranch first belonged to my Great Uncle Pete, who bought it in 1940. I'm the third generation on this ranch, and my son and his family are the fourth.

What do you do for work?


I’m a rancher. We have a cow-calf-yearling operation and raise a lot of our own hay. Winter sees us taking care of the cattle and calving. In the summer, we spend a lot of time irrigating and harvesting hay. From June to October, the cows are up in the mountains, so we spend time riding and moving cattle. I have a fair amount of office work, but the main job is taking care of cattle.


Operations like ours are at the very start of beef production. Without the cow-calf producer, there’s nothing. Cattle harvest roughage that a human couldn’t digest and turn into protein.


What do you do for fun?

I really enjoy my work. I enjoy reading. My wife and I enjoy traveling and going for hikes, even just getting out and going for a walk here on the ranch. We catch up and try to enjoy where we live. I also enjoy going to a cattle auction sale, especially a bull sale. That’s recreation even though it’s business related.


I also really enjoy being part of Ruby Habitat Foundation¹. I serve on the board and it’s been a really enjoyable experience. The opportunity to meet people who come from different walks of life than what we have here in our small community has been a privilege I had not anticipated.


Neil and his wife, Gloria.

How would you describe your relationship with the Ruby Valley?


Our business is located here, so most of our time is spent here – but, we are involved in the community besides just having a business. I think that’s really common in a small community. I serve on a few boards like the Ruby Valley Conservation District board of supervisors and have been on that for close to 20 years now. I serve on the church board and some others that are agriculture or water related. The Ruby Valley is where we have our business, but also our social life.


How did you first become involved with the RVSA, and why was it important to you to join?


It was a little bit before the start of the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance when Senator Tester introduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act² and was going to include the Snowcrest drainage as a Wilderness Area. I got involved because of the impacts it was going to create on our grazing allotments. When Rick Sandru came up with the idea that we should keep going with the relationships we had started with conservation groups in a strategic alliance, it seemed like a natural fit and the next thing to do.


Being part of the RVSA is important to me because I get to meet a lot of people whose world – and world view – is completely different than mine. I really enjoy that interaction and I always learn something. It’s so enjoyable working with diverse groups that are all focused on having a healthy landscape. There are so many different aspects to it. It’s good to approach these challenges together.


"Being part of the RVSA is important to me because I get to meet a lot of people whose world – and world view – is completely different than mine. I really enjoy that interaction and I always learn something. It’s so enjoyable working with diverse groups that are all focused on having a healthy landscape. There are so many different aspects to it. It’s good to approach these challenges together."
Neil and crew trailing cattle to summer pasture in the Upper Ruby.

What are the vision and goals for the RVSA?


For me, I hope this continues on. We are kind of in our infancy now and have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. I’m hoping we can continue with that same energy. As we continue to gain a better understanding of each organization’s views and goals, we can come closer together, keep gaining credibility, and have more influence on how decisions about land use are made. We’ll continue to focus on public land, but also private too.


I would have never predicted the influx of people we see moving to small communities like ours. With people moving to rural Montana, there’s the pressure of land use. Everyone wants a piece of the rural experience. From a rancher’s point of view, it creates some challenges. It drives up land values, takes land out of production, and wildlife habitat is lost. The most value a piece of land has right now is to subdivide it into lots. I don’t know what the valley will be like in ten years — maybe people will decide it was an experiment and it didn’t work. But once there is a house built on land, it’s hard to imagine it would ever get torn down and go back into agriculture.


What do you see as some of your key accomplishments?


One of the things we’ve done that might be harder to define is gain credibility. That’s a big thing. We’ve done individual things, like influence the grizzly bear conversation, but one of the biggest accomplishments is gaining credibility. It’s such a diverse group coming together. I kind of think we forget about those first couple years — those intense conversations that went on when we didn’t have trust yet and no one had a good feel for where anyone else was coming from. I think that can be so healthy in that kind of a structure. No one stands up and stomps out. To get through those touchy conversations in an accomplishment. Those experiences weren’t always enjoyable, but they were enriching. From that to where we are now, that’s a huge accomplishment.


Everyone came into the group with a good intention. It took a while to realize all parties had a desire for good stewardship. The leaders have done a good job steering that and people stuck with it. Everyone had stick-to-it-ness.

"One of the things we’ve done that might be harder to define is gain credibility. That’s a big thing."

What do you look forward to while working with this group?


I enjoy the interactions with all the different people. I think we’ve developed great friendships within the group. As far as favorite memories, probably the field trips. Those are good memories; those have turned out well.


One of my favorite days was when Darcie (Greater Yellowstone Coalition's Montana Conservation Coordinator) and a few of her colleagues came out in 2019 in the middle of a miserable winter and spent the day in the calving pasture³. It was really cold. They were good sports, hung in there, and despite the cold had a really good day.


I’m on the RVSA subcommittee working on the Snowcrest Wilderness. Besides being very apprehensive, I’m interested to see what that process will be. Hopefully we can influence the direction of management. If we can help make changes in the approach, that would be a huge thing for this area. That’s how things start a lot of times. Once one place starts doing something, somebody says, let’s try to do that a little bigger.


Greater Yellowstone Coalition staff touring Silver Spring Ranch's calving pasture with Neil on a chilly winter day. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed)

What do you think others could learn from the RVSA?


I’m always apprehensive of that kind of question because it could come across like, “we’ve arrived and we’re going to show you how to do this.” But if folks wanted to do something like we’ve done, I’d advise being careful who you start out with. You can’t have people who are so opposed to any kind of changes or be so radical they aren’t open to change. Start slow. Decide on the goals and the vision. Figure out how to have influence. If you can impact one thing in this world, that’s a big deal.


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


When people ask me about it – and generally I’m around other ranch or agriculture people – I try to emphasize that we are working with conservation groups and it turns out they aren’t the enemy. They want what’s best for the landscape and that can include what’s best for agriculture. The groups we are working with have open minds and really want to understand.


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


I have been surprised that the conservation personnel have been able to really appreciate what we are trying to do as ranchers. When I visit with people who are completely unfamiliar with agriculture, it’s very hard for them to grasp what we really do. With any business, unless you are in it, it’s hard to grasp what it entails. The conservation groups have made an effort to understand what it takes to run a ranch and raise cattle. They’ve really tried to comprehend what goes on here.


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


I hope that it will stay an agricultural community. I see other valleys that used to look like this that now have lost agriculture and open space for wildlife habitat. I’m hoping the Ruby Valley can keep as much open space as possible, stay in agriculture, and maintain somewhat of a small-town community. The RVSA is important to help with that – building community among different groups of people. When one of these ranches sells, the family ranch isn’t going to be there anymore. That affects the social part of the community, not just the business part. I know things don’t stay the same, but I’d like some rural to still be here.


What is your personal theme and/or walk song?


I really like the song “I Will Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle.





¹ Ruby Habitat Foundation is a non-profit organization and working ranch dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural resources, and social and economic makeup of the Ruby Valley and southwest Montana. https://rubyhabitat.org/


² 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.


³ Ruby Valley Stories: Silver Springs Ranch

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