Photo Credit: Josh Birnbaum, NASF


In April 2019, the USDA Forest Service Region 1 (Forest Service) and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (State) released a Shared Stewardship Leaders’ Intent letter. Signed by Forest Service Regional Forester Leanne Marten, State Director John Tubbs, and State Forester Sonya Germann, the letter communicates the agencies commitment to work together to advance:

There are seven principles in the Leaders’ Intent letter outlining how the Forest Service and the State will partner to improve forest conditions and organize their work to address the two above initiatives:

  1. We will draw strength from our interdependence and diversity;
  2. We will organize our work together under all three tenets of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy;
  3. We will plan and implement across boundaries;
  4. We will value our partnerships and strive to identify shared outcomes;
  5. We will be innovative and effective;
  6. We will prioritize Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) as a joint program; and
  7. We will prioritize our work to revise and complete the Montana Forest Action Plan (FAP).

The content on this webpage was drafted and finalized in March 2020​. Return to WFLC shared stewardship landing page


Following the release of the Strategy and before crafting the Leaders’ Intent letter, State and Forest Service leaders in Montana took intentional action to establish alignment between their agencies on how they would proceed together. They held strategy meetings to cultivate a mutual understanding of shared stewardship within their agencies and brought together leaders to discuss a collective approach. Initial conversations surfaced two particular areas of interest; growing a joint GNA program and updating the FAP. 

A Leaders’ Intent letter was decided on given that the State and the Forest Service were already operating under both the Strategy and Forests in Focus 2.0, and they concurred that another agreement was unnecessary. Further, the agencies wanted to facilitate a response to the Strategy that was inclusive to Montana’s extensive network of partners. In those early deliberations the FAP was identified as the best platform to deploy shared stewardship with partners and the most strategic to invest in larger planning, prioritization, and implementation. 


The FAP was identified as the primary vehicle for implementing shared stewardship in Montana, and with the intended goal to increase coordination across jurisdictional boundaries. Principle #7 of the Leaders’ Intent letter formalizes this with the commitment to prioritize the revision and completion of the FAP while working in close partnership with multiple tribal governments and stakeholders.

In May 2019, Montana Governor Steve Bullock issued an Executive Order (EO) that established the Governor’s Montana Forest Action Advisory Council (Council). Co-chaired by the State Forester and the Regional Forester, the Council’s membership represents state, federal, local, and tribal governments; conservation organizations; forest products industry; collaborative and watershed groups; conservation districts; private landowners; recreation and tourism members; and other relevant partners. The EO charged the Council with updating and implementing the Montana FAP. Among the responsibilities and duties of the Council are to:

  • Identify key values and criteria to guide data acquisition and analysis.
  • Assist in identifying priority landscapes for forest restoration and management action that lead to successful, coordinated projects that are shared across jurisdictions and constituencies.
  • Prioritize and amplify collaborative efforts that bring together stakeholders representing diverse perspectives.
  • Ensure the FAP includes a systematic process of evaluation, planning, action, and monitoring to measure and communicate success.
  • Establish realistic, achievable, and measurable outcomes.
  • Identify recommendations for effective plan implementation. 

The State and the Forest Service are examining funding possibilities beyond business as usual to advance shared stewardship in Montana. Recognizing the Strategy does not have specific appropriated dollars, leadership has jointly explored identifying resources to support the completion of the FAP. Upon completion of the FAP, the State will have a strategic list of priority areas identified that should be well positioned for supplemental implementation funding through competitive state and private forestry grants, Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, and other state and federal grants.

Beyond the work between the State and the Forest Service, other agencies are exploring ways to coordinate efforts across landowner boundaries. The State and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are utilizing GNA on BLM lands (see Partnerships, Programs, and Initiatives section), and the State and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are partnering to expand the footprint of private forested lands treatments across Montana. Additionally, other state agencies are coordinating state funding in order to better leverage and compete for federal money.


The FAP revision will include an updated analysis on forest conditions, trends, and threats within Montana along with areas and regions of priority. Additionally, the FAP will outline an implementation strategy aimed at promoting cross-boundary work to address conditions within the priority areas. To assist the Council with updating the FAP, the State and the Forest Service are coordinating to ensure models and data sets utilized in the process are comparable across all lands regardless of jurisdiction. The agencies are also using data from the same sources such as wildfire risk assessment and water quality data. 

The State has explored social data sets that capture collaboratives engagement and partnership capacities, and will potentially use the data to inform the FAP. The Forest Service is sharing data with the State from their forest plan revisions and planning efforts, which also engages Montana collaboratives. The agencies are jointly examining opportunities for foresters, planners, and the public to interface with the data in the FAP in real-time. 

Partnerships, Programs, and Initiatives

A core theme in Montana’s shared stewardship work is the emphasis on partnerships. Principle #4 of the Leaders’ Intent letter is the State and the Forest Service’s commitment to “maintaining and improving their relationships with tribal governments, counties, collaborative groups, community groups, conservation groups, soil and water districts, and other stakeholders”. The revision of the FAP, the guiding document for shared stewardship in Montana, is led by a diverse group of partners. 

In addition to the State and the Forest Service, the Montana FAP engages seven other state and federal agencies, including: Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Montana Disaster & Emergency Services; BLM; NRCS; National Park Service; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As outlined in Principle #6 of the Leaders’ Intent letter, GNA will be a key element to shared stewardship in Montana. The State and the Forest Service are in progress to establish a long-term joint GNA program that will complete critical restoration treatments addressing fuels reduction, wildlife habitat improvements, and will supply various forest products. To jumpstart the program, the State hired full-time GNA staff and supported in-kind investments of existing staff. Both the Forest Service and the BLM supplied funding to the GNA program. Partners from industry, business, and conservation have also been key financial contributors to GNA.

Tips for WFLC Members

Be transparent and avoid surprises. The State and the Forest Service made a concerted effort to keep each other informed and updated on their respective agency’s shared stewardship actions. This transparency ensured each agency had the right information to keep efforts on track and avoided the possibility of getting ahead of one another. 

It is important that state and Forest Service leadership maintain unified messaging and model how their agencies will work together. A united leadership is crucial to garnering buy-in from those at the programmatic level and those implementing treatments. This helps to convey a trust between agencies both internally and externally.

Go slow to go fast. Ensure there is a thoughtful and durable process that engages the right people, at the right time, in the right way. Going too fast may cause state and Forest Service partners to get ahead of one another or may risk alienating a key partner and damaging relationships. Developing a well-executed process will minimize the need for backtracking or additional time spent to address missteps or mistakes.

Learn More

To learn more about shared stewardship in Montana, please contact the State and Forest Service members listed below: 

Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
Sonya Germann
Forestry Division Administrator
2705 Spurgin Road
Missoula, MT 59804

USDA Forest Service Region 1
Leanne Marten
Regional Forester
26 Fort Missoula Road
Missoula, MT 59804