Les Gilman on his family ranch near Alder. (Photo by Anna Ingram, Happiness Captured)

Gilman to receive Ruby Valley stewardship award

A community-minded Alder rancher is the 2018 Ruby Valley Conservation District Stewardship Awardee. Les Gilman will receive the award during an awards banquet at the RoundBarn in Twin Bridges on Saturday.

"I'm humbled and delighted that the selection committee and the nominators considered me for it," said Gilman.

Gilman runs a family ranch near Alder and also manages several other ranches. "I think the challenge of operating a family ranch is always economic sustainability," he said. "But to accomplish economic sustainability over a long term - it's been 109 years we've been involved - it takes the efforts or more than just the operator. The efforts of my predecessors on the ranch to kind of set standards, by which we would operate that ranch, with the idea that it would have long-term viability; and then working with organizations like the Natural Resource Conservation Service to get the expertise to do the natural resource-related work to ensure that economic viability, would be a couple examples.

"Of course, the real challenge is that economic viability - doing what you can with what you have to try to improve it and/or sustain it, but not get yourself into an economic challenges or difficulty."

The award winner encouraged fellow ranchers to learn from each other. "Spend the time - time is always a short commodity when you're ranching because there's always some work to do - but take the time to consult with or at least observe what's going on on neighboring properties, where some innovations or practices that result in a higher level of production are happening, or changes in the way that things are being approached that will result in economic savings and natural resource values improvement. It's something that has to happen. You just have to be aware of the new opportunities and what's going on with changes and innovations in agriculture. They're happening all the time."

Dan Durham and Logan Miller nominated Gilman for the award, writing, "As a rancher, small business owner and member of numerous boards and committees, Les has worked tirelessly to care for the land and the people of the Ruby Valley.

"Les has been involved in countless natural resource management projects throughout the watershed,


• Thoughtful management of state lands as part of the Robb/Ledford Grazing Association. Les

and the other members have worked with the BLM, FS, DNRC and FWP to implement a rest

rotation grazing system that provides for cattle, wildlife and rangeland health.

• Participation in the Vigilante Canal and Ruby River Water User boards. Les and the other

members of these groups have worked to manage irrigation water and infrastructure in a

manner that provides for both water users and fish/river health.

• Participation in cooperative noxious weed management spray days. Les and his family have

assisted their neighbors, Madison County and public land managers to attack noxious weed

infestations throughout the watershed.

• Implementation of grazing and crop management plans on client properties. Les has worked

for over 25 years to maintain agricultural operations on ranches owned by absentee

landowners, keeping ranchers and cattle on the landscape, and educating his clients about the

importance of being a good steward and neighbor.

• Implementation of restoration projects on client properties. Les has helped his clients

complete a wide range of wetland, wildlife habitat and native vegetation restoration projects

across the Ruby Valley and the state of Montana, often with watershed-wide benefits.

• Facilitation of irrigation system improvements on the West Bench. Les recently coordinated a

large-scale irrigation project intended to greatly reduce irrigation withdrawals from Clear Creek

and improve production on numerous crop fields along the west side of the Ruby River."

Durham and Miller describe some of the innovative techniques Gilman has undertaken.

"• Implementation of management intensive grazing practices on his family ranch. Les has

worked with his son Charlie to improve grazing management practices on irrigated and dryland

pastures in an effort to improve soil health, forage production, cattle health and overall ranch


• Placed family ranch under conservation easement with the Montana Land Reliance. Being the

fourth generation on this property, he took action to preserve ranching and conservation legacy in

the valley by protecting family ranch against development, while at the same time not limiting

the ranch's business objectives.

• Worked with the NRCS through the CSP program to experiment with innovative management

practices including irrigation efficiencies for better water use and less energy consumption and

fencing for ease of wildlife travel.

• Conducted demonstration projects on the Ruby Habitat Foundation's Woodson Ranch. As the

executive director of the Ruby Habitat Foundation Les implemented numerous projects to help

agricultural producers and show people that agriculture and wildlife can go hand in hand. These

efforts have helped us learn more about different forage species, native plants, grazing

techniques, and farming practices.

"In addition to his on-the-ground natural resource work, Les has dedicated an enormous amount of time

to community efforts, including:

• The Ruby Valley Hospital Foundation. Les has invested hundreds (if not thousands) of hours to

help bring a new hospital and better medical care to the community. The hospital is almost

complete and would not have happened without his extensive volunteer effort.

• The Bethel Methodist Church. As an active member of the church Les has served on numerous

committees, been the lay speaker in the absence of a pastor, served as a trustee and as

pastor/parish relations. He has also taught Sunday school and been Chairman of the

Administrative Board.

• Governor's Rangeland Executive Committee. As a longtime member of this governor

appointed committee, Les provided important insight into rangeland management issues and

guidance to the DNRC in an effort to sustain healthy grazing land across the state of Montana.

• Ruby Watershed Council. For several years Les was the chairman of the council, working with

the RVCD to implement educational and resource management projects alongside a diverse

group of community members.

• Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance. More recently Les has joined on to the RVSA, working with a

diverse group of local and regional stakeholders to find common ground and support each

other's efforts to maintain or improve resource conditions and ranching opportunities in the

Ruby Valley.

• Serves as an Alder Fire Department Trustee and past volunteer firefighter to assist in providing

a vital community service.

The RVCD/MCD awards banquet starts at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Round Barn in Twin Bridges. Dinner tickets are sold out, but general admission for music and dancing is $10 at the door after 8 p.m.

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