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By Jennifer Shoonen, Blackfoot Challenge In community halls and school gyms across Montana, local conversations have given rise to many impactful grassroots, collaborative organizations. It's been 30 years since one such conversation in the Blackfoot watershed resulted in a caring resident's comment that taking on all the local issues would be a real "challenge." Since the moment it was established in 1993, the Blackfoot Challenge has pursued a model of bringing people together and finding common purpose in watershed stewardship and sustainable communities. While the Challenge celebrates 30 years of partnerships in the Blackfoot, this year also marks another important anniversary for this watershed and its roots in collaboration. Fifteen years ago, the Blackfoot Challenge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program won an "Innovations in American Government" grant from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to transfer years of collaborative conservation lessons learned in Western Montana to the rest of the country. One of the outputs from this grant was the creation of a new landowner-led organization to provide a national footprint supporting the practice of public-private conservation partnerships across the country. Established in 2008, Partnerscapes (originally named Partners for Conservation) embodies a grassroots movement of private landowners working with agencies, nonprofit organizations, and policymakers to collaborate on conservation efforts to sustain our working landscapes for present and future generations. With a growing presence across all regions of the United States, Partnerscapes is led by individual landowners who implement collaborative conservation where they live and are willing to share what they have learned and what they have accomplished with other landowners, conservation organizations and agencies, as well as our leaders at all levels. Each year, Partnerscapes hosts "Private Lands Partners Days" – the only national meeting dedicated to celebrating and learning about these public-private partnerships and the people and organizations engaged in them. The meeting has grown from 30 to over 200 attendees, including both landowners and landowner partners, and has been held in a different state each year showcasing natural resource conservation partnerships from Maine to California. In celebration of Partnerscapes' 15th anniversary, Private Lands Partners Days is returning to its birthplace in the Blackfoot watershed this Oct. 3-5. "Partnerscapes is both honored and excited to return to where it all started in the Blackfoot watershed," said Partnerscapes Executive Director Steve Jester. "This is an opportunity for landowners and producers from all over the country to connect with some of the pioneers of community-based collaboration in the Blackfoot – and to share their experiences from collaboration in their own corners of the country." To learn more about Partnerscapes or the upcoming Private Lands Partners Days, please visit partnerscapes.org.
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