RURAL ADVOCACY: FARMERS, RANCHERS, FORESTS STREAMS & RECREATION
Missoula County’s rural areas are influenced by those who live here – from cattle ranchers to telecommuters; from guest ranch owners and river guides to small to business owners; from small parcel owners to those with large acreages- all in the midst of all of the state and federal lands we all enjoy. Living in rural areas has so many benefits – a chance to be away from busy city life, the opportunity to see and hear wildlife, the ability to work the land. Along with these opportunities comes a commitment to the land, wildlife, water, and each other
Jean Curtiss’s work reflects her deep roots in rural Missoula County. Raised in the Swan Valley of northeastern Missoula County, Jean knows first-hand that working on a farm or ranch is hard work but it is rewarding and gets in your soul. She also appreciates the value and beauty of open lands either protected by a landowner through a voluntary conservation easement or the vast public lands we are so fortunate to have access to in Missoula County. Jean prides herself in her role in creating the Open Lands Committee, the county-wide Open Space Bond, and a department overseen by the County Commissioners that is devoted to assisting rural communities and residents who wish to maintain and enhance their rural way of life.
The Missoula County growth policy and the most recently adopted regional land use plan, for the Seeley Lake region, highlight the community values of natural resource protection and protecting the farming, ranching and forestry way of life while recognizing the recreation economy that is so important to the county.
WORKING TOGETHER TO SUPPORT OUR FAMILY FARMS AND RANCHES
“When I see the ranching families who have been stewarding the land for decades I always reach out to let them know how much I appreciate their family’s legacy. But I also appreciate the newcomers to farming who will be part of our future legacy in agriculture. These families sometimes tell you while they are land rich, they are cash poor. The land is their retirement, their 401 (k).”
— Jean Curtiss, Missoula County Commissioner
Farming and ranching in rural areas of Missoula County is challenging. The growing season is shorter, raising livestock and hay requires more land. There is risk of predators, recreationists leaving gates open, weather can mean drought or blizzards. Jean has listened to ranchers talk about how the connectivity to summer grazing lands, the need to be close to another rancher to grow hay and the threat of neighbor dogs running the cattle when a subdivision is built next door. There is also a need to get cattle to market, borrow money against the land on a bad year, and compete in a world that is dominated by large, national corporate farms. It is a global market so finding a niche is important. Farming, ranching and the timber industry are connected to the economic development work where Jean’s experience pays off.
PRESERVING AGRICULTURAL LANDS
As Missoula County grows, the preservation of our agricultural lands remains is an important priority. To address this issue, Jean was instrumental in convening diverse stakeholder working groups to help find appropriate solutions to address Missoula County’s agricultural land mitigation standards. Because this is a community challenge, Jean believes it deserves a community-wide approach that doesn’t disproportionately place the burden on family farms and ranches that have been working on the land for generations. Jean is working toward finding the right balance for the community and is dedicated to continuing dialogue that fosters our strong legacy of collaborative, voluntary conservation easements.
FIGHTING FOR OUR OUTDOOR ECONOMY
Outdoor recreation in Montana supports 71,000 direct jobs and fuels $7.1 billion in consumer spending. The recreation economy is strong is Missoula County and needs an advocate like Jean Curtiss. A recent study by Headwaters Economics showed counties with the most protected public lands in the West are also home to the fastest growing economies. Missoula County the third fastest growing counties for job growth in the state.
Jean has been involved annually in the Blackfoot Corridor Agreement between landowners along the river, the county and the state and federal land managers. This agreement has effectively addressed issues such as places to park and identifying safe places to get out of the river when rafting. Jean has also been a strong supporter of the check stations for aquatic invasives in the Clearwater and Blackfoot watersheds. This partnership between FWP, Missoula County Weed District and others is the proactive way to protect those watersheds from watercraft carrying invasives. This took lobbying at more than one legislative session to find the money for these manned stations.
Jean has strong working relationships with agencies and organizations working to protect our public lands and public waters so important in our rural areas.
OUR TIMBER HERITAGE & FUTURE
The timber industry is also still an important part of the economy in Missoula County. The Pyramid Mountain Lumber Mill in Seeley Lake is one of the few mills left in Montana. Family-owned for over 50 years, this mill continues to compete by using state-of-the-art machinery while also prioritizing stewardship of the land. They have been great partners with the USFS, bidding on stewardship projects that harvest timber, do fuel mitigation and provide for recreational uses. Jean was proud to work with Pyramid to apply for a CDBG loan for some of their equipment.
Willis Enterprise in Bonner has provided a place for loggers to sell timber that is not lumber grade for chipping since 2011. Jean worked with Willis to get their chipping permit approved quickly so they could start chipping the 60 loads of timber coming in daily.
Whether working with individual rural businesses and their neighbors, fighting for our outdoor heritage or seeking workable solutions for agricultural lands preservation, Jean is dedicated to advocating for our rural communities.