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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife
922 Bootlegger Trail, Great Falls, MT, 59404

July 10, 2006

Contacts: Greg Neudecker, FWS, (406) 231-4570
                Jim Stone, Blackfoot Challenge, (406) 210-3595
                Heather Johnson, FWS, (303) 594-8780
                Tina Bernd-Cohen, Blackfoot Challenge, (406) 459-7459


Harvard University has awarded its prestigious "Innovations in American Government Award" to Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program, for its community-based cooperative conservation efforts to restore the state’s Blackfoot River Watershed. The award, presented by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the Council for Excellence in Government, recognizes the program for working with a variety of state, local and community partners to restore the watershed. The region, located in northwestern Montana, is home to an agricultural economy and a diverse array of fish and wildlife including protected species such as grizzly bear and bull trout. The award includes a $100,000 grant, which will be used to promote the Blackfoot conservation model to other parts of Montana as well as to other states.

"This national award honors the outstanding work that the Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners are doing in the Blackfoot, and demonstrates the true power of community-based conservation," said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne. "I applaud the Montana Partners program and the individuals, organizations, and agencies that have come together to create a model conservation partnership in the Blackfoot."

The program’s emphasis on building trust among, and relationships with, private landowners and other stakeholders in the Blackfoot culminated in the establishment of the Blackfoot Challenge, a locally-driven partnership representing local ranchers, state and federal agencies, industry, conservation organizations and others to create a sustainable, replicable model for watershed management aimed both at restoring and conserving the ecological integrity of the Blackfoot and ensuring the economic viability and rural lifestyle of the valley and its communities.

"I measure our collective success in the Blackfoot not just by the amount of habitat we have restored and conserved," said Greg Neudecker, Assistant State Coordinator for the Montana Partners program and the Service’s representative in the Blackfoot, "but also by the diversity of partners with whom we work and the level of trust we have built in the community. Our approach considers people – and their interests and values – as well as wildlife."

"I attribute our success to the ‘80/20’ rule," said Jim Stone, a rancher from Ovando, Montana and Chairman of the Blackfoot Challenge. "Rather than clash over the 20% of issues we can’t resolve, we focus on the 80% we can resolve and work together toward reaching that goal. There is simply too much at stake for us, and for our children, not to try and move forward together."

Land ownership in the Blackfoot Valley is a patchwork quilt typical of the western United States: 75% of the native species in the 1.5 million acre watershed depend on private lands. Over the past thirteen years, the Montana Partners program, the Blackfoot Challenge, and other partners have restored 38 miles of stream, 2,600 acres of wetlands, 2,300 acres of native grasslands; reduced conflicts between humans and grizzly bears by 50%; and, permanently protected 90,000 acres of private lands for wildlife habitat, all on private lands. Concurrently, the Service and others have worked with local, state, and federal agencies to develop management strategies on public lands that enhance and complement ongoing private lands conservation activities in the watershed, resulting in a "ridgetop to ridgetop approach."

For more information about the Montana Partners program and its work in the Blackfoot, go to:

To learn more about the Blackfoot Challenge, visit:

For more information about Ash Insitute at Harvard University and the Innovations in American Government Award, see:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million- acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices, and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American Tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.

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