Agriculture, Conservation, and Community Resilience in Montana's Northern Great Plains
sky and field in rural Montana

Agriculture, Conservation, and Community Resilience in Montana's Northern Great Plains

About the Project

Agriculture-dependent rural communities across the United States are facing many challenges including population decline, consolidation of production, market concentration, change in land use, and absenteeism. Climate disruptions further compound these demographic and agricultural changes.

A growing number of US rural communities that have historically depended on agricultural production are coming to rely on natural resource conservation. Conservation efforts have focused their efforts on amenity-rich agricultural areas through top-down regulation and through bottom-up land management.

In this project, we study the intersection of top-down and bottom-up approaches with the goal of identifying impacts at the individual and community levels to draw lessons about how communities promote resilience. Using a transdisciplinary multi-methods approach, our efforts focus on a seven-county region in Montana's Northern Great Plains currently facing a constellation of demographic and agricultural challenges familiar to rural communities throughout the nation. Our project team is working with community members to generate new data on land ownership, use, and value. Through this community-engaged approach, we are working collaboratively with local residents and organizations to promote public scholarship that can inform local community resilience efforts.

This research is supported by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Departments of Community and Environmental Sociology and Sociology, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station, the Applied Population Laboratory, the Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agrifood Systems, and the Gaylord Nelson Institute's Center for Culture, History and the Environment. This project is made possible by the generous participation of community members throughout Montana's Northern Great Plains.

cattle in field under overcast skies


rancher with cattle
Katherine Curtis Professor of Community & Environmental Sociology at UW-Madison Katherine "Katie" Curtis is Professor of Community & Environmental Sociology and Associate Director of the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work in population trends and dynamics focuses on two central themes: population-environment interactions, most centrally the relationship between demographic, economic, and environmental forces; and local and historical aspects of social and economic inequality. Curtis' work is heavily influenced by her upbringing in rural northeastern Montana.
John Canfield PhD Student in Sociology John Canfield is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He studies issues pertaining to rural inequality, environmental governance, and land ownership. For his dissertation, he focuses on land conflicts surrounding large-scale conservation initiatives in the western United States. He has also conducted and published research on corporations and farmland financialization in rural Illinois. Before starting his PhD program, he received a Master's in Rural Sociology from Auburn University and a Bachelor's in Philosophy and Environmental Studies from Sewanee: The University of the South.
Danielle Schmidt PhD Student in Sociology Danielle Schmidt is a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the department of Community and Environmental Sociology. She is broadly interested in rural sociology and has ongoing research projects relating to agricultural land ownership and the experiences of agricultural workers. Schmidt is an alumna of the University of Chicago, where her research on rural internet access won the Richard P. Taub award for best thesis. She has varied experience in the public and nonprofit sectors through roles in program management, philanthropic consulting, and economic development.