“We shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this great country: those who come after us will extend the ramifications as they become acquainted with them, and fill up the canvas we begin.” — President Thomas Jefferson to his friend, William Dunbar, May 25, 1805.

George Trischman is anxious to show the world why Jefferson should be smiling down on the canvas the third U.S. president started when he engineered one of the largest land acquisitions in world history — the Louisiana Purchase.

“We can demonstrate that what Thomas Jefferson was after in 1805 exists today,” explains Trischman, manager of Hamilton Ranches near Twin Bridges, MT. “We're living proof you can have sustainable ranching, agricultural communities and commerce — and still leave the land pretty much like it was when Lewis and Clark came through.”

This summer, 200 years will have passed since Jefferson's Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and Capt. William Clark trudged through what is now Montana. Jefferson's aspiration was a great American agrarian culture stretching from coast to coast. His dreams of communities and commerce “acquainted” with the great rivers of the country were laced with an appreciation for the natural resources of the land — resources that could continually fuel an environment where people and nature could coexist.

Therefore, with the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition comes opportunity and responsibility for Montanans of all walks of life.

Trischman is among dozens of ranchers participating in the Montana Undaunted Stewardship® program — a collaborative effort designed to demonstrate how “this great country” remains much as it was two centuries ago. And, he's willing to share the places that are significant to the history of the nation. On one unit of Hamilton Ranches, located between Dillon and Bannack, lies Carroll Hill, the place where the expedition met Sacagawea's tribe, the Shoshone, in early August 1805.

Given its size, it's not surprising Montana garners so much attention related to Jefferson's crowning glory and the Expedition. Lewis and Clark spent more time in present-day Montana than any other state during their trek across the continent.

That's why Undaunted Stewardship has become so important to Montana's cattle industry. As a cooperative program involving federal and state agencies working with private-sector organizations, its goal is to ensure the long-term environmental quality and economic productivity of privately owned, agricultural landscapes — with special attention to sites rich in history along the Lewis & Clark Trail.

A University of Montana Institute of Tourism and Recreation study in 2000 estimated the state could host up to 8.9 million more visitors over the four-year Expedition bicentennial period.

Tamara Beardsley, Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) communications coordinator in Helena, like others, thinks the figure high. But, she says, there's “no question” Montana will see an influx of visitors following in the Corps of Discovery's footsteps.

She says two of the 15 national Lewis & Clark Bicentennial signature events will be held in the state — an event near Pompey's Pillar in June and a July 4 festival at the Great Falls of the Missouri.

Historic site preservation

Trischman, with the blessing of ranch owner, Alan Hamilton, is one of at least nine Montana ranchers who have completed the Undaunted Land Steward Historic Site Preservation certification process. These ranchers agreed to preserve historic sites on private land and provide access for the public to view, enjoy and learn from them.

Each historic preservation site features a free, public interpretive display focused on the Lewis & Clark connections, ranch history and land stewardship. These places will be accessible by car.

“I really think this is a good program that let's us show the public we've done a good job in maintaining the integrity of these sites, as well as the environment around them,” he adds. “We'll be ready for them.”

The historic site certification involves 10-year lease agreements between the landowner and Montana State University-Bozeman (MSU), says Merrita Fraker-Marble, a research and Extension associate in MSU's College of Agriculture. “Certification is for five years, and then participants must recertify.”

To compensate for providing access to the historical sites, each landowner receives a one-time, $50,000 payment provided through a federal grant to Montana's Undaunted Stewardship program. At each site, a kiosk will be erected to commemorate the Ex-pedition. Interpretive displays by Helena writer Tom Daubert will tell visitors about each area's history, including past and current stewardship practices that helped keep them productive and natural looking.

Land steward certification

For ranchers without significant historical sites on their land, the Undaunted Stewardship Land Certification Program is a way to demonstrate they're preserving Montana's open space while using environmentally sustainable agricultural practices, Fraker-Marble says.

“We have 25 ranches with more than 400 square miles of rangeland certified,” she says. “We have 30 plus ranches in the certification process and more are interested and contacting us all the time.”

Ranchers who volunteer to participate in this land certification program agree to use state-of-the-science range management practices to maintain or enhance environmental values of grazing lands. They pledge to adhere to three stewardship standards:

  • A long-term commitment to a set of environmental management ethics and to respect all local, state and federal laws and regulations.

  • Assure that a written grazing management plan exists and is kept current.

  • Conduct annual land monitoring to assess the environmental impacts and effectiveness of grazing management practices.

To be eligible, farms and ranches must be classified as agricultural land by the State of Montana. Technical assistance from MSU is available to help participants meet their stewardship goals. Jeff Mosley, MSU Extension range management specialist, coordinates a range science team that visits and studies the ranches and helps the ranchers develop written grazing plans.

“The team also helps each rancher establish a range monitoring program to collect baseline data ranchers can use to judge, refine and continually improve their land management,” Mosley says.

More to the story

MSGA and MSU aren't working alone in Undaunted Stewardship. A guidance council representing 19 conservation organizations and agricultural groups, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), helps oversee the multi-faceted program. BLM is an especially important player in resource management of the upper stretches of the Missouri River — the major artery of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

One of the Undaunted Steward-ship historic site ranches is the Pavlovick Ranch, south of Big Sandy and located at an end-point for floaters of the Wild and Scenic Area portion of the Missouri River. The Pavlovick Ranch includes a documented campsite of the Expedition (May 28, 1805). One of two Undaunted Stewardship ranches with historic sites accessible only by boat, its 8,100 acres have been in continuous agricultural production since the 1890s.

While the program is designed to showcase the century-old legacy of environmentally sound ranching in the region, Undaunted Stewardship stems in large part from defensive posturing. The program was born in the wake of the Clinton administration's 2001 designation of the controversial Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (see “Undaunted Stewards,” BEEF, January 2002).

Public interest in the Missouri Breaks — and the coming Lewis & Clark Bicentennial — had intensified following publication of Stephen Ambrose's book, “Undaunted Courage,” which chronicled the Expedition. In 1999, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt floated the river breaks with Ambrose, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and a cadre of environmental activists.

The Montana ranching community had long voiced opposition to monument designation. But, a furor erupted when it was learned the nearly half-million-acre monument area also included 81,000 acres of privately owned land.

“A lot of this stems from when Babbitt was in power and making monuments out of so many ranching areas of the West,” Trischman says. “We had to tell our side of the story, especially with the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial bringing so much attention to the state.”

Exploring a “vast wasteland”

What President Thomas Jefferson really wanted was to find an inland waterway to the Pacific Ocean. Finding the fabled “Northwest Passage” would not only crown the glory of his $15-million Louisiana Purchase, but also calm critics of what some claimed was a ridiculous investment in “a vast and howling wasteland.”

From Columbus' time, explorers had searched for an all-water route connecting East Asian trade routes to Old Europe. In 1804, the best bet was to check out the mighty Missouri River and see where it led.

Instead of a connection between the Missouri and Columbia rivers, the Corps of Discovery bumped into a massive mountain chain that split the continent near the Missouri headwaters at what today is Three Forks, MT.

As the dream of an easy trade route across America faded that summer of 1805, many of the other tasks assigned to leaders Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were fulfilled in grand fashion.

They succeeded in making mostly peaceful contact with native peoples, and their surveys of sites for trading outposts and forts served to outline many of the geo-political maps charting the region today. Their detailed descriptions of the land's plant and animal resources far exceeded Jefferson's hopes for the expedition and fueled further hope for the development of the region.