This past fall break, I had the privilege of leading the Wildlife Habitat Conservation Alternative Break trip in Lakeview, Montana. For five days, I worked alongside ten fellow students, a staff partner, and some amazing community partners with the goal of protecting and preserving one of the most beautiful and wild places I’ve ever seen: Centennial Valley.
Centennial Valley is a significant wildlife migration corridor for the entire Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The valley is filled with lakes and streams, trumpeter swans and bald eagles soaring over the water, and bugling herds of elk. At night, we could hear coyote howls echoing down through the mountains. After experiencing the surreal, rugged nature of this place ourselves, we understood on a fundamental level why the community placed such value in conserving the valley.
What’s also interesting about Centennial Valley is that it’s predominantly a ranching community. Oftentimes, ranching and environmentalism are thought to be at odds, but the community in Centennial Valley dispels this notion. Conservation efforts are completely dependent on the relationships between the different interest groups in the valley. The removable fencing project that we worked on with Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge exemplifies this; the Refuge worked with ranchers to create a system of wildlife-friendly fences surrounding ranch land that can be easily taken down each year. Bear spray in hand, our team hiked miles and miles along the base of the Centennial Mountains, dropping fences so that critters can make their seasonal migration down through the valley.
This experience made me realize just how important it is to be pragmatic and accommodating when it comes to land management and conservation issues. Simply building healthy relationships with others in the community can have a tremendous impact on what we can achieve. Given the land management issues we’ve had here in Utah, I think there’s a lot to learn from the community in Centennial Valley.
The opportunity to lead this Alternative Break has easily been my favorite experience during my time at the U. I hope that future Alt Break trips to Centennial Valley can be rewarded with the same beauty and sense of community that we were.