Grant Funds Will Help Capture Agricultural History
May 11, 2022
When Community Outreach Manager from the Montana History Foundation (MHF), Zachary Coe announced on March 29 that twenty-eight projects across the state received a total of $212,187 in grant funds disbursed for preservation projects in 2022, another organization with a local presence that received $10,000 was the Montana Association of State Grazing Districts (MASGD). One of those districts is the North Blaine Grazing District, a non-profit, cooperative association of ranchers and farmers who raise livestock.
With headquarters in Helena, the MASGD will use their grant dollars to preserve historically significant information surrounding the creation of Montana grazing districts. The MHF grant funds will help capture almost 100 years of Montana agricultural history.
Of all the western states, Montana is unique in that it has a statutory network of State Grazing Districts. The people involved in the state’s leading industry—production agriculture—rely on these areas of diverse ownership.
Grazing districts are the result of the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act. Before this Act was passed, land that was valued for grazing purposes was unappropriated and unreserved from the public domain. These lands were used, but during the controversy of sustainable grazing practices during the 1930’s Dust Bowl era, the rights to use this land led the government to act on grazing issues. The Taylor Grazing Act enabled locals to petition the Secretary of the Interior to create a local grazing district. Upon acceptance, a board is formed to manage permits for grazing preferences, to maintain leases and range improvements, and to generally maintain order of the grazing of the public lands within their grazing district.
Following that federal action, the Montana Grass Conservation Act of 1939 organized these grazing areas into 26 districts, which allow for the greatest use of range forage while conserving limited natural resources. In these districts, encompassing more than ten million acres, federal grazing lands mingle with state, county, and private lands. Today, there are 29 total districts, concentrated in the eastern part of the state.
Because the maintenance of Montana’s public lands is vital to the members of the state grazing districts whose livelihood depends on a healthy relationship between the land and livestock and is dedicated to the economic success of Montana, the grazing districts promote stewardship of public lands. Under the Montana Grass Conservation Act, members of the North Blaine Grazing District have the power to lease or purchase grazing lands, to develop and manage district lands, and to allocate grazing privileges on those lands.
The Board of the North Blaine Grazing District is comprised of President Warren Lybeck, Vice President Kevin Elias, and five allotment directors: Richard Stuker, Gary Unruh, Ian Davies, Henry Gordon, and Sam Obrecht. At the state level, Lybeck is also the immediate past president of the MASGD and Elias serves on the Board of Directors.
This group of ranchers, along with all their constituent producers, work to conserve, protect, restore, and ensure the proper use of Montana’s grass, forage, and range resources. Districts work with federal and state agencies, county commissioners and other entities that own or manage land and thus promote cooperation where land ownership is diverse. The state network of grazing districts helps stabilize the livestock industry and protects ranch operations that depend on the availability of supplemental rangeland.
According to Skip Ahlgren, MASGD President, the MHF grant will enable the MASGD to bring together a collection that showcases the history of grazing districts across Montana. “In partnership with the Montana Memory Project through the State Library, the collection will be available digitally to the public and will provide us a unique opportunity to tell the story of the history of public land grazing in Montana.”
In conjunction with the Montana Public Lands Council, the MASGD will hold its annual meeting on May 16 at the Elks Restaurant—Pine Meadows Golf Course in Lewistown, Montana, from 10:00 a.m. until noon.