Day Two of our Western Media Summit was packed with immersive experiences meant to give tangible context to complex issues, like federal conservation funding programs, public and private land management, and the outdoor recreation economy.
Before lunch, guests enjoyed a walking tour of the stunning 600-acre conservation easement on Oyler Ranch, a property that was originally homesteaded by the Oyler family in the 1860s and has been continuously grazed since the 1880s. This morning, its rivers, creeks, ponds, and vast green fields were framed by distant white-tipped mountains, dusted with fresh snow overnight. Mike Ellig, who runs Black Gold, a Montana company that manufactures premium bow sights, purchased the property from the Oyler family in 2014 and, with help from the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, immediately began executing a plan for restoration of the fish and wildlife habitat within the ranch’s conservation easement.
“I’ve always had a passion for outdoors,” Ellig explained. “It’s always been a dream of mine to have a place to do the things I love to do.” It just so happens that Ellig is also opening the land to others who love to do the same things—hunt and fish. He’s also using responsible grazing and agriculture practices while looking for opportunities to enhance habitat for trout, deer, bears, turkeys, pheasants, and beavers.
Near Randall Creek, which flows through his property, he paused the tour at the side of 60-acre field, where he hopes to irrigate and create waterfowl habitat. One of his ponds, flanked by chokecherry trees (a favorite food source of local bears), is home to a turtle and two pairs of wood ducks, rarely found in the valley. Near a section of the West Gallatin that enters his land, cottonwood trees are beginning to grow back on the muddy banks of the fast-moving stream, after years of cows trampling the young trees.
“Mike Ellig is a great example of a landowner who is improving sportsmen’s access by opening up his private land to hunters and improving the habitat at the same time,” said Peter Brown with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “I think something that is often overlooked about his contribution is that the conservation work he contracts out to local workers actually creates something like a dozen jobs. That’s on top of the benefit that this new public access point will provide to the outdoor recreation economy in Bozeman.”
Later in the day, TRCP’s Chief Conservation Officer Paul Wilkins turned the group’s attention to federal public lands, asking conservation and industry leaders, “Why do public lands matter?” On the same day the TRCP reported that 18,000 sportsmen have signed our Unlocking Sportsmen’s Access petition and more than 174,000 letters have been sent to lawmakers opposing the transfer of federal public lands to the states, our panelists spoke passionately to the group of 40 gathered at Simms Fishing’s 60,000-square-foot Bozeman headquarters about the value of public lands and the importance of sportsmen’s access to local economies. Blake Henning from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ben Bulis from the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Joel Webster from the TRCP, and Ryan Busse, a business leader from the shooting sports industry discussed major threats to our public lands legacy and some great opportunities that media professionals have to tell the stories that will kill off this bad idea of handing control over federal lands to the states.
Following the discussion, Diane Bristol, senior director of employee and community engagement for Simms, gave a tour of the production facilities where employees make the brand’s popular waders. She said that the company has 150 employees, having added 10 percent more positions in the past year, and they plan to keep growing. She showed TRCP guests several sections of the headquarters including the cutting room, repair center, testing area, seam taping machines, and custom graphics department. She also shared a bit about the company’s conservation mission: “Public lands and access to good fishing is crucial to our business, and our staff is passionate about these sports,” said Bristol. “I think today was a great opportunity for the media guests to see just how invested we are in conservation, through our work with TRCP and other groups, and in excellence for our products overall.”