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Undaunted Stewardship Encourages Visitors, Preserves Resources

For years, Doug and Zena Ensign have allowed history buffs onto their Park County ranch to see Fort Parker, the original Crow Agency site. More visitors may arrive with the approaching Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, since William Clark trekked along the Yellowstone River through what is now their Mission Ranch.

Despite the Ensigns' "open gate," people take artifacts, discard toilet paper and beer cans, and track in weed seeds.

Doug and Zena Ensign's Park County property (below) is enrolled in the Undaunted Stewardship program. (Photos by Kyle Brehm)
Zena says she has to make weekly trips to the area just to clean it up.

The Ensigns wanted to continue allowing access to the historic site, but they needed help managing the influx of people. They also wanted to show visitors that ranchers are not the bad guys they're sometimes made out to be.

"We wouldn't be here all these decades if we hadn't taken care of the land," Zena said.

Eager to show people both the history and environmentally sound land management, Doug and Zena were among the first to sign up for the Undaunted Stewardship program that began in April 2001. The program is a partnership of Montana State University, the Montana Stockgrowers Association, the Bureau of Land Management and an unprecedented mix of other environmental, governmental and agricultural groups.

Named for the Lewis and Clark chronicle Undaunted Courage, the program helps private landowners preserve their lands while allowing access to historic sites and educating the public about agriculture in the 21st century.

With the help of the program, the Mission Ranch will display a kiosk that outlines the history of Fort Parker and other historic buildings. The kiosk should be ready by the end of this summer. Visitors will also learn how cattle contribute to healthy rangelands and how landowners tackle invasive weed species. They'll find out why riparian areas must be sensitively handled and why grazing management plans are necessary. Most of all, they'll learn how-and why-today's ranchers are good stewards of the land. In addition to the interpretive kiosk, public service announcements on radio and television will inform listeners about the positive environmental benefits of modern agricultural practices.

"This is more than the history thing," Zena said. "This is a good way to promote the agricultural industry to the entire world."

All Montana farms and ranches are eligible to have their land stewardship certified by the Undaunted Stewardship program. Certification recognizes farms and ranches for their Best Management Practices that ensure the long-term health and productivity of Montana's natural resources. In addition, certified farms and ranches that contain a site of historic significance are eligible to enter into a Historical Site Preservation Agreement. The agreement compensates landowners for allowing limited public access to historic sites and for the continued preservation of these sites and their natural landscapes. The program's initial Historical Site Preservation Agreements focus on sites along the Lewis and Clark Trail, including Lewis and Clark campsites, military forts and stagecoach stops.

Undaunted Stewardship also helps any farm or ranch business that is interested in developing an additional enterprise, such as a bed and breakfast, campground or guest ranch.

By the end of its first year, Undaunted Stewardship was working with five ranches to establish the first Historical Site Preservation Agreements. The program was also assisting two ranches develop additional enterprises. Organizers hoped to award several Land Stewardship Certifications this summer.

Jeff Mosley & Suzi Taylor

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