Lewistown site of inaugural National Geographic living with wildlife conference

By: 
DEB HILL
News-Argus Managing Editor
Monday, December 24, 2018

A young woman rides a horse across her ranch near the Judith Mountains north of Lewistown. Ranchers and other ag producers are a big part of the mix at the upcoming Living With Wildlife conference in January.

Photo courtesy of Louise Johns

 

Wildlife enthusiasts and agricultural producers will descend on Lewistown in January for a conference sponsored by National Geographic.

The Living With Wildlife conference, Jan. 23-25, 2019, brings together those making a living in agriculture to discuss ideas for how to operate profitably in the midst of Montana’s abundant wildlife populations. Whether it is dealing with predators or dealing with large ungulates, the more than 40 speakers will address financial impacts, funding sources, what works, what doesn’t and tested solutions for managing wildlife interactions, organizers say.

 According to Sean Gerrity, one of those organizers and also executive director of the American Prairie Reserve, the free Living With Wildlife conference is a bit of an experiment.

“This is the first time we’ve done something like this,” Gerrity said. “We are bringing together people with a wide variety of ideas, including FFA members, researchers from MSU, and ranchers, to exchange ideas. It’s an experiment, and you know, the first time you do something it can be a little challenging.”

Gerrity said he expects between 75 and 100 people to attend the conference, but it’s hard to know for sure because this is the first time it’s been offered.

“If it works, if people find it valuable, we’d like to do it annually or every other year in Lewistown,” Gerrity said. “If Lewistown wants it,” he added.

With topics such as “Economics of Living with Wildlife,” “Conflict Prevention Tools for Living with Predators” and “Marketing Your Livestock for Sustainability,” conference organizers hope to draw from a wide range of participants.

Billie Ayers, who runs a marketing business in Lewistown, is helping to promote the event.

“What I love about National Geo’s idea is getting people to step out of their silos and have a conversation with people they might not otherwise meet,” Ayers said. “Usually at conferences you have a lot of people with the same ideas. This conference allows those with different ideas on the subject of living with wildlife to have a place to sit down and discuss issues face to face.”

Ayers said she feels Lewistown is the appropriate place to host a conference such as this one because of the strength of both the agricultural and outdoor sectors of Montana’s economy in this area, and because of the natural setting here.

“National Geo chose Lewistown due to the biodiversity in the region and also concerns about the APR and other issues,” Ayers said. “We are a testing ground. If this conference works well, Lewistown could be a shining example.”

Ayers, who grew up near Miles City and has an agricultural background herself, said the idea of bringing conservationists and ag producers together caught her attention.

“I used to do the marketing for a ranch in Kansas,” she said. “I am aware of the niche markets and how it is to try to compete in the commodity market. Social responsibility is a big thing for consumers now. I can see ways this (conference) can work well for producers, to maybe create some brand new markets.”

Ayers said there are no preconceived notions for how the various conference sessions will work out.

“I just think it’s good for people to share ideas and talk with each other,” she said. 

The Living With Wildlife Conference ends just as the Montana Winter Fair is getting started. Two of the Winter Fair sessions dovetail nicely with the conference agenda: “Dealing with Wildlife on Private Property: A look at Bears and Big Horn Sheep Population Growth,” and “Livestock Protection: A Look at Guard and Herding Dogs.” Both are held at the Eagles Hall.

“It’s coincidental that our scheduled session topics work so well with the Living With Wildlife topics,” said Chris Cooler, Winter Fair board chairman. “It’s also great there’s so much going on in Lewistown in January. I think those attending the Living With Wildlife conference may enjoy many of the Winter Fair events.”

 

Living With Wildlife Conference

 

January 23-25, 2019

Yogo Inn, Lewistown, Montana

Registration deadline is Jan. 8; conference is free up to that date.

For more information or to register go to www.livingwithwildlife.us

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