This past winter, Art Ortenberg passed away at the age of 87, some 7 years after his longtime partner, wife and friend Liz Claiborne passed. Although they were very wealthy New Yorkers and could live anywhere in total seclusion, they chose a far more visible path-engaged and active in their communities. They loved Montana and the folks that live, work and play here.
Art and Liz were long time philanthropists and supporters of wildlife conservation and efforts that paralleled their values and vision. They came to Montana in the early 90’s to become a part of the communities of the Seeley-Swan Valley and Canyon Creek not apart from these communities. Art and Liz locally supported the Seeley Lake Elementary School’s pioneering school lunch program and the award winning pre-school program, Montana Public Radio, the Canyon Creek Fire Department, the Helena Public Library and many, many more. With their strong interest in getting kids outdoors and connected to the environment, they worked with the Montana Wildlife Federation to establish a youth elk hunting program on their Triple 8 Ranch near Canyon Creek. They also sponsored the Montana Natural Heritage Project at Seeley-Swan High School, allowing students to observe their natural environment and host a community gathering to share their findings.
In addition to being generous and a Montanan at heart, Art was a visionary and understood accomplishing conservation and habitat objectives required the involvement and support of Rural Community members. He was a proponent of community-based conservation and embraced the benefits of a wide variety of interests working together to help each other see more of their values on the ground. Beginning in 2001 in Red Lodge, Montana, Art brought together a group of conservationists, county commissioners, congressional folks, loggers, ranchers and agency leaders which served as an incubator for today’s collaboration.
Not only did Art envision the benefits from bringing folks together but, also showing them on the ground results that advanced stewardship and restoration. Pyramid Mountain Lumber had completed several such projects by 2003 on Art and Liz’s “Tranquility” ownership in the Swan Valley as well as the Clearwater Stewardship Pilot Project in Seeley Lake. Pyramid Mountain Lumber is a family owned mill in Seeley Lake with a long history and reputation for working with diverse interests to accomplish mutual objectives.
That summer, Art invited National leadership from the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and The Wilderness Society to visit with various agency, industry and community members and to visually review on the ground treatments on “Tranquility” and Clearwater Stewardship. They viewed protection of old growth veteran trees, habitat restoration for fisheries and wildlife, fuel reduction in the wildland urban interface, recreational improvements and came to realize the benefit to rural communities in providing raw materials for processing which offset the cost of the restoration treatments while providing high paying jobs for local workers and contractors.
Convening this group was a landmark event in moving the dialogue between conservation community interests, timber industry folks, and other community members supporting active forest management in Rural Communities. Many current efforts in advancing collaboration to get the right thing done on the ground for the right reason started as a direct result of Art’s invitation.
In our many discussions over treatments on their Triple 8 Ranch to restore the Ponderosa Pine Savanna landscape that Lewis & Clark would have observed, it was clear that Art Ortenberg and Liz Claiborne had a deep appreciation and respect for Montanans and their diverse perspectives. Also, they were deeply attached to Montana’s incredible landscapes and its distinctive wildlife. So, as they worked worldwide to support the conservation and recovery of tigers, elephants and a variety of other endangered species and their habitats, rest assured they were grounded in Montana and their legacy is living their lives, dedicated to making a difference.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Gordy Sanders, thanks for listening.