Projects and Stories

Building capacity for successful community-based conservation

A growth opportunity for conservation organizations in the High Divide and Southern Crown of the Continent regions of Idaho and Montana.


Sustainable Northwest, in partnership with Blackfoot Challenge, Future West, The Nature Conservancy, the Montana Watershed Coordination Council, and The Brainerd Foundation, created an opportunity for community-based organizations and collaborative groups in the High Divide and Southern Crown of the Continent regions of Idaho and Montana to enhance their organizational capacity.

This initiative was designed to assess the operational gaps of participating organizations, provide training in those areas of need, and provide catalytic funding for lasting solutions that work for the people and the land in this ecologically critical region. 

The High Divide – a region stretching through Montana from Yellowstone to the wildlands of central Idaho – and the Southern Crown of the Continent – a region that includes the Rocky Mountain Front, Blackfoot Watershed and Swan River Valley – have long been identified as some of the most important ecological corridors in the country. The longterm well-being of wildlife species most often associated with national parks like Yellowstone and Glacier will depend on the conservation or restoration of ecosystems in these two contiguous regions.

While the regions are still relatively intact, there is increasing development pressure for rural subdivisions, mineral extraction, and the potential for energy development. In several places, lands have been degraded through inappropriate resource management practices, and the ongoing effects of climate change will continue to stress these ecosystems.

A diversity of conservation organizations are in operation in these two regions, many of which embrace a collaborative, community-based approach to their work. In some cases their efforts have resulted in significant conservation gains. In others, projects have faltered or failed, resulting in significant setbacks for the land and people involved. 

Seeing a clear need for these organizations to be operating effectively for the longterm, Sustainable Northwest and our initiative partners set out to achieve a few ambitious short and medium term goals: 

Stronger, better prepared community-based organizations

Strong local leadership for effective project outcomes

Diversified funding streams for community-based organizations

A more robust and available network for project planning and sharing lessons learned

Sustained investment in community-based organizations 

We learned from participating organizations that the combination of workshops, webinars, and flexible funding for tailored technical assistance was a very effective and invaluable mix of services. Participants reported that their organizations would not or could not have invested time and resources in capacity building without the program. Everyone recognized how critical it is to invest in and also how hard it is to fund and pursue this kind of training on their own. All of the groups reported their beliefs that their organizations are now stronger as a result of this program. Participant comments show just how successful this project was:

“It’s hard to imagine where we’d be if we hadn’t had your help.” 

“This program was the complete package.” 

“Being organized and able to carry out the behind-the-scenes work to get the management projects in place will have a big effect on the landscape. Some of the projects would still just be conversations right now, if not for the additional capacity.”

“We’re strong now; we understand who we are, where we are, what we want to do, where we want to go, and how to get there. We wouldn’t have gotten there without the program.” 

“I feel like I’ve learned more from the workshops than any other workshop I’ve ever attended.”

“We couldn’t have done this capacity building work without the program.”

Learn more about the workshops: Dillon, Montana, February 4-6, 2015; Missoula, Montana, October 5-7, 2015