The Outdoor Fund: Empowering Conservation in Montana’s High Divide

The Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, empowered by 200-million hunters and anglers, is proof that the generosity and commitment of sportsmen and women across North America is the most powerful force in the history of conservation. Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s believe that strategic conservation can be good for habitat, economies, communities and quality of life. By showcasing how landscape scale conservation can benefit hunters, anglers and communities (as well as the fish, wildlife and wild places that give us all so much), we are changing the world together.

Our work with the Nature Conservancy Montana proves this directly. 

The High Divide Headwaters of Southwest Montana is a mythical place. A stronghold of wildlife that has disappeared through much if its historic range, this part of the world has been attracting sportsmen since the days of Lewis and Clark. The expedition was here in the summer of 1805.

Located between two of the west’s most iconic landscapes—the Greater Yellowstone and the Crown of the Continent, this region is home to the headwaters of the great Columbia and Missouri watersheds. The magnificent rivers that begin here flow to opposite oceans.

The Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, through the generous support of customer donations, is proud to invest in the Nature Conservancy of Montana’s suite of conservation programs in the High Divide Headwaters. Together we are empowering meadow and wetland restoration, sagebrush habitat improvement and game friendly fence installation. The net result of this work is measured in the ability of habitat to support the region’s diversity of species—elk, moose, pronghorn, mule deer, sage grouse, Arctic grayling, and Canada lynx, to name but a few—and the world class sporting and recreational opportunities they provide.

What follows is a breakdown of this world-changing work. It provides a real-world example of how the generosity and dedication of the sportsmen and women who shop with Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s continues to drive conservation across North America.

Game Friendly Fencing and Winter Migration

In many ways, winter migration corridors are arteries of western landscapes. Poorly designed fences interfere with the natural flow of big game and other animals from summer and fall habitat in the mountains and winter ranges at lower altitudes. Replacing old, traditional fences with the game friendly variety reconnects habitat and restores natural pathways and benefits creatures from sage grouse to moose—including elk, pronghorn, big horn, and deer.  

Game friendly fencing has slick wire (instead of barbed) on top and on bottom. Why is that important? Watch this cow moose and her calf passing over some game friendly fence.

Wildlife fence projects in the region are executed by an interdisciplinary partnership of conservation organizations, state and federal wildlife agencies and volunteers. This Outdoor Fund grant allows the Montana Nature Conservancy to match federal funds, leveraging an impact that is far greater than dollar-per-dollar. The Outdoor Fund is proud to work with strategically minded partners for the long-term benefit of habitat, big game and hunting opportunities.

Watershed Resiliency and Meadow Restoration

Meadows and wetlands are of critical importance to wildlife in the west. Access to water can be a limiting factor in habitat’s ability to support wildlife—especially in drought-prone areas like southwest Montana. This Outdoor Fund grant provides funding for the placement of low-tech, low cost rock and stone structures that retain and spread water.

Known as Zeedyk structures, these installations are placed in meadows and stream beds. By slowing the flow of water and creating natural retention areas, the structures improve habitat for native fish like Arctic grayling, waterfowl and wildlife. Wet meadow and stream habitat not only increase general habitat resiliency to drought, but are important feeding areas for sage grouse, deer, elk, pronghorn and especially moose.

This grant is an investment in the Montana Nature Conservancy’s tradition of success. Working through an interdisciplinary partnership, the Montana Nature Conservancy has installed more than 800 of these structures to date. The low-tech, low-cost nature of the structures allows the project to influence 10-times more stream habitat than other approaches. This Bass pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund grant is an investment in bringing this on-the-ground work to the landscape scale.

Cascading Benefit to Landscapes, to Habitat and to People

There exists a human component of this work. These projects employ the conservation philosophy of “Working Lands Across Borders.” Based on championing conservation through a sustainable economy, this approach recognizes the unique cultures and landscapes in Southwest Montana. Bringing together interests rooted in conservation, ranching and outdoor recreation for the common goal of sustaining and enhancing the landscape, these projects showcase the ability to execute conservation while working within the dynamic needs of human communities across public and private lands.

Like ranching, hunting and outdoor recreation are drivers of Southwest Montana’s regional economy. Investments in these natural systems are also investments to support the 1,400 jobs, 380,000 combined hunter and angler days, and $167 million generated annually by hunting and fishing in Beaverhead County, Montana.

Thank you for rounding up for conservation. Together, we are making a difference.