On This Piece of Ground: Landowner Perceptions of Restoration in the Deer Lodge Valley

Sarah Carvill, The University of Montana


As politicians tout a new �restoration economy� and environmentalists seek more innovative ways to conserve open space and rehabilitate degraded ecosystems, ecological restoration holds increasing cachet in many western states. To what extent do restorationists� visions align with the experiences of the rural agricultural communities where restoration is taking place? How might restoration initiatives driven by state and federal policy and by environmental interests meaningfully involve and include the people who live alongside proposed projects? I attempted to answer these questions by examining local involvement in restoration in one Montana watershed. Facing a major Superfund cleanup with a high-profile restoration component, some ranchers in the Deer Lodge Valley have organized to represent landowners in the decision-making process and to implement best management practices on private lands. The majority of landowners in the valley remain outside this effort, however. Using data from 27 original in-depth interviews, I have tried to make sense of landowners� choices about whether and how to be involved with restoration, and to better understand the possibilities for restoration on private and working lands. I also make use of literature in environmental ethics geared toward defining �good restoration,� as well as my own experience as California-born writer and veteran weekend weed-puller, stranded for a lonely summer in the shadow of the Anaconda smelter stack. My findings are presented as a narrative of the emergence of a local, grassroots restoration organization (Chapter 3); a discussion of the major themes of my interviews with agricultural landowners (Chapter 4); and an expansion of existing theory on countervailing trends in ecological restoration that accounts for some particular challenges of restoring ecosystems on working landscapes in the rural West (Chapter 5).


© Copyright 2009 Sarah Carvill