Special to the Havre Daily News
LaSalle Ranch on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation has won the 2013-2014 Montana Environmental Stewardship Award.
The annual award is sponsored by the Montana Stockgrowers Association's Research, Education and Endowment Foundation.
LaSalle Ranch is a cow-calf and yearling operation mostly located within the reservation boundaries. The LaSalles are members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. They are the first Native American winners of this award.
Each year, MSGA honors a Montana ranch that exemplifies environmental stewardship and demonstrates a commitment toward improved sustainability within the beef industry. The award recognizes Montana ranchers who are at the forefront in conservation and stewardship and are willing to serve as examples for other ranchers. LaSalle Ranch was selected for this award by a committee that included two past national Environmental Stewardship Award winners from Montana.
“The whole LaSalle family is very proud to have been selected for this award,” said Leon LaSalle, president of LaSalle Ranch. “We understand that if we take care of the land it will take care of us. Our ancestors lived in harmony with their environment and we try to do the same. This award means a lot to me personally, not for myself, but for my father who has spent a lifetime improving the environment — not only for us, but for numerous other farmers and ranchers throughout north-central Montana.”
LaSalle Ranch is operated by the LaSalle family. Leon and his wife Shannon, his father Robert L. and mother Jenny, and brother Robert W. and his wife Susan are all involved in the operation.
Leon and Robert W. represent the third generation to ranch in the area. Their grandfather, Frank Billy, was one of the first Chippewa Cree tribal members to enter the livestock industry after World War II.
LaSalle Ranch has partnered with the Montana Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s Natural Resource Department and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to implement conservation practices and a planned grazing system to protect environmentally sensitive areas on the ranch, the associatio said in a press release.
They have installed more than 7 miles of stock water pipelines, 25 wildlife-friendly watering facilities, and 10 miles of cross fences.
A major focus of the LaSalle family’s efforts has been Beaver Creek, which flows into Beaver Creek County Park.
The park is located on the downstream border of the LaSalle’s grazing allotment. The LaSalles have worked to keep cattle off the sensitive riparian areas of the creek by developing eight off-stream water developments, utilizing solar energy to pump livestock water to higher elevations to take grazing pressure off riparian areas and allow even grazing use of the pastures, and installing 3.5 miles of riparian area protection fences.
These efforts have resulted in improved water quality in the headwaters of this watershed and a more pleasant environment for people at the park.
The stockgrowers group will work with the LaSalles to prepare its application for the regional and national award competition.
Since 1992, MSGA has honored 20 state winners, nine of whom went on to win the regional award and two named national award winners.