Photo courtesy of David Laufenberg

Called by the Mountains

David Laufenberg takes a position with the Madison Conservation District

David is a pretty common first name. The German surname Laufenberg, on the contrary, is not.

In 2009, David Laufenberg was studying abroad in Ecuador and went running in the mountains with a German woman. As they pranced along, she would occasionally utter some muffled laughter and repeat his last name. Finally,
he had to ask why. “It’s just so great to be running in the mountains with a Laufenberg,” she said.

Broken down, ‘laufen’ translates to running and ‘berg’ to mountains. Laufenberg wrote a letter to his 91-year-old grandmother after putting this together to explain the etymol- ogy of their last name.

Laufenberg’s grandmother grew up farming in Wisconsin, never even going to high school. He was born and raised surrounded by dairy farms in the southwestern part of the state. In Madison, Wis. he got his undergraduate degree in science and conservation biology.

The call of the mountains, maybe stemming in part from his own name, was persistent.

Laufenberg had a friend doing graduate work at Montana State University (MSU) and came to Bozeman to visit, eventually staying to start his own graduate degree. One adventure there involved working with the Bridgers Ridge Hawk Watch and witnessing 1,000
or so golden eagles flocking through the area while he lived and worked on top of the ridge for two months.

He obtained a Master of Science graduate degree and defended his thesis this past May. The topic involved water availability for pine trees, specifically white bark pines, in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with a focus on conservation efforts. The mountains and val- leys of Yellowstone drew him to the area.

A small community to call home made a job with the Madison Conservation District (MCD) in Ennis even more alluring.

Laufenberg and his girlfriend and their dog will be moving to Ennis at the end of the month. He began the job with MCD as the conservation programs manager at the beginning of January. Part of the job description includes being in charge of coordinating with partners and working to establish long-term conservation goals significant to the Madison Valley.

“I’m learning a lot about agricultural practices in Montana and specifically learning
a lot about soil health as the basis upon which we have long standing ecological health as well as ranch land,” Laufenber said.
As the conservation programs manager, Laufenberg works with private landowners. Understanding how private and public sectors can work together to ensure land health will be a big part of his role.
He described private landowners as proactive and engaged, willing to get work done, “like tomorrow if we want to.”

The move to Ennis provides opportunities for him to really get to know the people who have lived on this land for generations, and who care about preserving it for many more.

“I’m really excited to get out and kick the dirt with folks who have been kicking the dirt on their own land for a long time,” Laufenberg said. Working in conservation tends to transcend public and private life, he explained. The two cannot easily be separated when the job seeps into each component.

Classic conservationists like Rachel Carson, Wallace Stegner and Aldo Leopold influenced Laufenberg as he studied. A quote from Stegner in his email signature reads, “I really only want to say that we may love a place and still be dangerous to it.”

These three and many more have explained in their own words why conservation work is important. “I think we all have a vested interest in the welfare of our common home, the Madison Valley,” someone’s email signature quoting Laufenberg may one day read.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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