She wins friends for lions, wolves and bears

  • Janelle Holden on a 'predator-friendly' sheep ranch north of Bozeman, Montana

    Sean Sperry
 

Janelle Holden is in the business of changing minds — including her own. Holden, the coexistence director for the nonprofit Predator Conservation Alliance, grew up on a cattle ranch on the Great Plains, just east of the Rocky Mountain Front. When grizzly bears began moving into the area in the 1980s, her father was far from delighted.

Holden, the daughter of two Republican legislators, followed her parents’ political path. During college, she interned with Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, and later served as assistant communications director for Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, both Republicans and longtime opponents of predator recovery. After a year in Washington, D.C., Holden made her way back West, eventually moving to Colorado to work for two small-town newspapers.

Holden soon realized that the West was no longer the place she remembered or imagined. Oil and gas drilling and mining were changing the public lands, and while she still agreed with Republicans’ fiscal values, she began to question the party’s recent resistance to environmental laws and regulations.

In 2000, while she was working as the agriculture and public-lands reporter for the Cortez Journal and the Durango Herald, her political convictions received a serious jolt. Holden’s managing editor invited her to see then-presidential candidate Ralph Nader speak in Durango.

Holden found that several of Nader’s positions, such as legalizing the production of hemp for paper and clothing, made sense to her. "I’m a Republican, and I agree with this guy," she thought. "How can this be?" After the speech, she concluded, "I’m probably not in sync with Republicans on conservation anymore."

A few years later, Holden came upon an advertisement for a position with the nonprofit Predator Conservation Alliance in Montana. She thought it might be a way for her to work on the environmental issues she cared about. "I grew up on a ranch with grizzly bears," she thought. "Maybe they’ll hire me." She was right.

The alliance had noticed that, although conservationists were winning a lot of battles on behalf of predators in the courtroom, they weren’t gaining many new allies on the ground. The Range Riders Project, one of several that Holden manages, aims to do just that, working in partnership with the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, an association of ranchers in southwest Montana.

The project has hired riders to patrol the sagebrush and stay near the livestock 24 hours a day, in hopes that the presence of humans and horses will deter wolves.

After only two field seasons, it’s too early to claim success, but no Madison Valley cows were killed by wolves this summer or the last. The project has been duplicated in the Boulder Valley south of Big Timber, Mont., with similarly encouraging results.

And Holden can take part of the credit for local ranchers’ enthusiasm. "She works for an environmental group with a big, scary name," says Todd Graham, ranch manager for the Sun Ranch in the Madison Valley, "but she plays her cards really well in front of a group of ranchers. Those are her ranch smarts coming into play."

"I wouldn’t say I’ve converted anyone into a wolf lover," Holden laughs. But a local rancher recently told her he would no longer shoot a wolf on sight. And Holden is even beginning to win her family over: Her father has joined the Predator Conservation Alliance. These days, he has two bumper stickers on his truck. One reads: Save the Front — Drill It. The other is PCA’s Lions and Wolves and Bears, Oh Yes!

The author is a freelance writer in Livingston, Montana.

High Country News Classifieds
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • MS ACCESS DATABASE PROGRAMER
    Looking for an access programmer. Contract position. Send resume with references and rates to: [email protected] www.prospace.biz
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.