Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Natural Resource Conflict Resolution

Department or School/College

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Sarah J. Halvorson

Commitee Members

Shawn Johnson, Alex L. Metcalf


Cattle ranching, Livelihood diversification, Economic restructuring, Participatory research, Blackfoot Challenge


University of Montana


The Blackfoot River watershed in Western Montana, like many rural landscapes across the Intermountain West, has faced a suite of economic, demographic, and social change over the last 40 years. Cattle ranching specifically, a principal land use in the Blackfoot watershed, has faced increasing socioeconomic challenges due to global competition, falling cattle prices, amenity migration, and climate change. Ranch livelihood diversification presents an opportunity to bolster the profitability of ranches in the watershed, while also supporting the well-being of rural communities and conserving the intact, ecologically-significant rangelands upon which ranching depends. The Blackfoot Challenge (BC) is a nonprofit community-based conservation organization that operates within the Blackfoot watershed. To explore potential roles for the BC in facilitating economic development in the watershed, this research utilizes participatory and qualitative methods to identify opportunities for and challenges to ranch income diversification based on the perspectives and experiences of Blackfoot ranchers. The results speak specifically to diversification strategies involving: (1) market diversification through direct-to-consumer and cooperative marketing; (2) product diversification through livestock diversification and third-party certifications; (3) tourism and recreation through offering vacation rentals, “glamping,” hunting, and non-motorized recreation; and (4) payments for ecosystem services through government cost-share programs, conservation easements, and carbon sequestration. Based on these results, the most salient opportunities for income diversification on Blackfoot ranches are presented, as well as specific recommendations for the BC to pursue in support of ranch profitability and sustainability in the watershed.



© Copyright 2022 Sara N. Schmidt