GOLD2022

Western Sustainability Exchange

Conserving what's best about the West for future generations -- open space, wildlife habitat, and farming & ranching heritage -- while strengthening rural economies

Livingston, MT   |  www.westernsustainabilityexchange.org

Mission

Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE) was founded in 1994 to conserve the abundance of the Northern Rockies including its open spaces; wildlife habitats; soil, air, and water resources; rural communities; and agricultural land and heritage. Today, WSE boasts important successes in bringing together people who are committed to the future of the region. The organization has aided over 1,300 ranchers design and implement innovative and regenerative production strategies, developed value-added markets for these producers, including carbon offset payments for sequestering carbon, educated thousands of consumers about the benefits of sustainable purchasing, increased access to local foods for citizens of the region, and addressed climate change by drawing carbon dioxide out of the air.

Ruling year info

1995

Executive Director

Ms. Lill Erickson

Program Director

Chris Mehus

Main address

PO Box 1448

Livingston, MT 59047 USA

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Formerly known as

Corporation for the Northern Rockies Sustainable Communities

EIN

81-0495837

NTEE code info

Other Food, Agriculture, and Nutrition N.E.C. (K99)

Natural Resource Conservation and Protection (C30)

Elementary, Secondary Ed (B20)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Blog

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

WSE advances regenerative land management practices in Montana and neighboring Rocky Mountain states to preserve the land, water, fish, and wildlife populations. We also combat climate change by capturing carbon out of the air and sequestering it deep underground through regenerative grazing. Additionally, we restore soil quality, provide access to local healthy food for all, and strengthen rural economies by increasing the profitability of ranchers who are outstanding stewards of their land in some of the most important wildlife habitats in the world.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Resilient Ranchlands

Resilient Ranchlands: Restoring Grasslands Through Regenerative Ranching

Grasslands and the life they support need your help! Grassland ecosystems are disappearing at an alarming rate. Nearly half of the world’s grasslands have been converted to industrial farming, energy development, and housing. Over 80% of the remaining lands are in poor to marginal condition.

The results are catastrophic. Grasslands are turning into deserts, soil is eroding and being
stripped of precious nutrients. The wildlife habitats and the critical biodiversity grasslands support are disappearing.

Because Montana ranchlands contain some of the most important grasslands left on the planet, WSE believes ranchers play the critical role in ensuring their long-term vitality. Ranchers can do so by using regenerative agricultural practices. These practices create healthy soil, increase drought resiliency, protect water quality, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

We offer ranchers tools to improve their ranchlands by:
1. Providing technical assistance
2. Organizing regenerative ranching workshops and field days
3. Offering a Regenerative Ranching Assessment Tool and a Sustainability Certification Program so they can track their progress
4. Monitoring grasslands for soil health
5. Creating economic rewards that incentivize the switch to regenerative methods, such as connections to chefs and grocers.
6. Leveraging carbon offset payments to ranchers who are sequestering carbon on their ranches through their exemplary grazing methods.

WSE helps restore grasslands in some of the most important wildlife areas in the world, increase the availability of wholesome local food, support our farming and ranching neighbors, strengthen our rural communities, and protect Montana’s wide-open spaces.

Population(s) Served

WSE is addressing one of the most urgent issues of our time: climate change!

The historic rise of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere and their effect on our climate makes it imperative to find significant ways to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) levels—a major culprit in climate change. A growing number of scientists believe healthy grasslands hold even greater potential than rainforests in their ability to draw dangerous CO2 from the air and sequester the carbon deep underground.

Grasslands are the largest terrestrial ecosystems in the world, yet are some of the most imperiled with over 80 percent in poor to marginal condition. If grasslands can be brought back to health, many scientists believe we could begin to reverse climate change.

WSE is partnering with Montana ranchers and major companies to reduce climate-changing carbon emissions and restore vitality to Montana’s grasslands by promoting regenerative grazing practices.

Regenerative grazing creates healthy soil and abundant vegetation which in turn supports biodiversity, enhances wildlife habitat, protects water quality, and increases drought resiliency. Healthy grasslands pull CO2 out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis, release oxygen back into the air, and sequester the carbon atoms deep underground through their root systems, reducing or “offsetting” climate-changing CO2 in the air.

WSE facilitates the switch to these practices by offering workshops and field days on regenerative methods as well as direct planning and management assistance, emphasizing techniques that improve soil health. We incentivize this stewardship by partnering with companies who provide carbon offset payments to ranchers based on the amount of carbon they sequester on their land. Carbon credit payments can provide an important new source of capital to increase ranch profitability so ranchers are less likely to sell their land for development.

WSE recruits ranchers into this program and helps them navigate the complex enrollment process that results in 30-year contracts committing to keep the land undeveloped and use grazing strategies designed to pull CO2 out of the air.

WSE protects grasslands in some of the most important wildlife habitat on earth, help ranchers stay on their land, and conserve Montana’s wide open spaces—all while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions! We are creating a model that can be replicated throughout the West, and perhaps even the world!

Population(s) Served

WSE’s Local Food Program brings food from the farm to the fork by connecting farmers and ranchers, who meet our rigorous Sustainability Certification© protocols, to local restaurants and natural food grocers to ensure that delicious, sustainable food makes it onto the plate.

We certify the practices producers use to protect human health, livestock welfare, and the health of soil, water, air, open space, and wildlife. Simply put, WSE Certification ensures that an operation:
• Treats animals humanely
• Eliminates hormones and sub-therapeutic antibiotics
• Significantly reduces or eliminates chemicals used in production practices
• Protects open space, wildlife habitat, and water and soil quality

Once a farm or ranch operation gains certification, we connect WSE-certified producers to our network of chefs, caterers, concessionaires, and grocers who are passionate about sourcing local, sustainably produced food. WSE facilitates over $1.75 million in sales annually for our producers through this program.

It takes hard work to produce sustainable ingredients, and it takes dedication to source these ingredients in restaurants. WSE supports both sides of the local food equation and strengthens our sustainable food system.

Population(s) Served

WSE’s Livingston Farmers Market is more than just a place to buy produce. Our market is making a real difference for our community.

For 19 years, WSE has operated the Livingston Farmers Market. There, one can find delicious prepared foods, arts and crafts, baked goods, locally brewed beer, and farm and ranch products showcasing the freshest, healthiest food our region has to offer.

Shoppers enjoy music and entertainment featuring local talent and learn about the range of services available in our community through our Special Event Days Series, such as Community Health Day.

But, there is more to it. To help our low-income seniors, WSE provides $50 vouchers to nearly 100 seniors so they can purchase honey and fresh fruits and vegetables. We also offer Youth Booths so our young entrepreneurs can gain valuable experience selling products of their design and have fun doing it.

Over the years, the market has exploded in the number of vendors and community engagement. We average 230 vendors in a season who sell their goods through our market, with as many as 102 vendors in a single day! And depending on the weather, 500 to 1,000 shoppers supported these vendors, generating over $250,000 in sales in just 16 days. Most of those dollars circulate back into our community, bolstering our local economy.

Come rain, shine - or wind, WSE’s summer Farmers Market runs each Wednesday from 4:30 pm - 7:30 pm, June through September, at Miles Band Shell Park, next to the Livingston Civic Center.

Population(s) Served
Adults
Adults
Adults
Adults

Where we work

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

WSE aims to restore land, water, and biodiversity throughout the rocky mountain west by partnering with ranchers to implement regenerative land management practices. By restoring soil quality--particularly on grasslands--the scientific community believes we can begin to reverse climate change. Montana's millions of acres of grasslands hold a key to addressing climate change. Regenerative land management practices are proven to:
1) restore land, soil, and water quality,
2) produce more nutritious food,
3) capture and store carbon deep in the soil where it belongs, and

These practices also increase the profitability of ranchers by qualifying them to participate in lucrative markets that value outstanding land stewardship, such as in the natural food and culinary sectors and the growing market for carbon offset credits. WSE's programs provide education and economic incentives to ranchers to implement holistic, regenerative land management practices, thereby preserving the unique ecological landscape of Montana and other western states.

WSE believes ranchers hold the power to preserve whole ecosystems and the local economies that depend on them. Their stewardship affects wildlife, water, and the scenic and recreation values that make Montana unique. Good stewards need vibrant markets to stay in business.

WSE works with ranchers and some farmers to encourage the use of agricultural practices that protect land, wildlife and water. Our comprehensive Resilient Ranchlands Program advances regenerative land management practices through educational workshops throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and the connectivity corridors that link the GYE to ecosystems in Central Idaho and Glacier National Park. WSE's Sustainability Certification Program verifies operations using regenerative practices through legally binding affidavits. To reward this stewardship and to expand stewardship that protects the environment and helps to sequester carbon, WSE's programs connect certified producers to prime markets for their products. Through these programs, WSE has facilitated the use of sustainable practices for more than 1,300 ranchers and farmers on over 1.5 million acres of land. We also recruited 35 restaurants, caterers, hospitals, national park concessionaires and universities to buy from WSE-Certified farmers and ranchers, which generates more than $1.75 million in annual sales for participants in our programs.

WSE's market-based programs enhance the financial viability of food producers, proving that great stewardship is also good business. We promote outstanding stewardship by providing agricultural producers with the information and tools they need to convert to regenerative practices. We then reward their stewardship with connections to niche markets in the culinary and natural food sector. Lastly, we make it easy for chefs and consumers to find local sources of sustainably grown food through special marketing events and our Local Food Directory.

Since 1994, WSE has worked diligently to create a solid foundation at the crossroads of conservation and sustainable ranching profitability. We are uniquely positioned to lead Montana's ranching community toward a regenerative and holistic land management model. Our 29-year history has established our reputation in Montana as the go-to organization for regenerative ranching. WSE has achieved important milestones and is poised to take our work to the next level over the next few years.

In 2014 WSE was chosen as one of 50 organizations from a pool of over 600 nonprofits to receive a SHIFT Sustainability Award. The award recognizes the most effective, innovative conservation and sustainability initiatives in North America. WSE was also chosen as the recipient of the Quivira Coalition's prestigious Clarence Burch Award for its leadership in promoting outstanding land management stewardship.

WSE is governed by a diverse board representing the major constituency with whom we work. Our staff also reflects this diversity with deep ties in Montana's rural communities.

WSE's milestones through 2021 include: trained 1,600 ranchers in regenerative agricultural practices; facilitated regenerative practices on 1.75 million acres in some of the most important wildlife habitat in the country; generated $1.75 million in yearly sales for WSE producers; organized range rider trainings for 120 ranchers, range riders, and agency personnel about proactive tools to minimize conflicts between livestock and predators and improve habitat for wildlife and livestock; supported 2 range rider programs covering 175,000 acres in critical habitat; completed a study to determine the viability of a grassland carbon sequestration program to incentivize ranchers to sequester carbon through regenerative grazing techniques; operated the Livingston Farmers Market, which generates $239,000 in sales annually for 228 local farmers, ranchers, and artisans each year; mentored over 500 children in sustainable business practices and helped kids create products to sell at WSE's Livingston Farmers Market.

Additionally, WSE has the most extensive nature-based carbon capture program on grassland in the United States and the second-largest grassland program in the world. Currently, over 100,000 acres are enrolled in our carbon program. Our three-year goal is to enroll 1 million acres into the program.

Our five-year goals are to facilitate stewardship on over 2 million acres and generate over $2 million in annual sales for producers in our programs.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • Who are the people you serve with your mission?

    WSE serves farmers, ranchers, and low-income families through our Livingston Farmers market and our regenerative ranching work. We also serve agricultural producers in tribal communities. We also serve culinary and natural foods businesses, regional meat processors, and regional distributors of food products.

  • How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

    SMS text surveys, Electronic surveys (by email, tablet, etc.), Paper surveys, Focus groups or interviews (by phone or in person), Community meetings/Town halls, Constituent (client or resident, etc.) advisory committees,

  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, To understand people's needs and how we can help them achieve their goals,

  • What significant change resulted from feedback?

    WSE is developing two tools for ranchers to use to improve their management: A Regenerative Ranch Assessment and a Resource Management Dashboard. We have worked closely with a broad spectrum of ranchers to develop these tools and to assess their effectiveness and functionality.

  • With whom is the organization sharing feedback?

    The people we serve, Our staff, Our board, Our funders, Our community partners,

  • How has asking for feedback from the people you serve changed your relationship?

    Feedback has guided WSE in major ways. By seeking feedback, we identified the needs of ranchers and together we are creating two major tools for ranchers to assess the current state of their operations in terms of regenerative management and to track their progress over time. We also use feedback to design and deliver all of our educational workshops, webinars, and field days. Lastly, we use feedback to structure and improve our Livingston Farmers Market.

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We collect feedback from the people we serve at least annually, We take steps to get feedback from marginalized or under-represented people, We aim to collect feedback from as many people we serve as possible, We take steps to ensure people feel comfortable being honest with us, We look for patterns in feedback based on demographics (e.g., race, age, gender, etc.), We look for patterns in feedback based on people’s interactions with us (e.g., site, frequency of service, etc.), We engage the people who provide feedback in looking for ways we can improve in response, We act on the feedback we receive, We tell the people who gave us feedback how we acted on their feedback, We ask the people who gave us feedback how well they think we responded,

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, We don’t have the right technology to collect and aggregate feedback efficiently, The people we serve tell us they find data collection burdensome, It is difficult to find the ongoing funding to support feedback collection, Staff find it hard to prioritize feedback collection and review due to lack of time,

Financials

Western Sustainability Exchange
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

Subscribe

Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

Want to see how you can enhance your nonprofit research and unlock more insights? Learn More about GuideStar Pro.

Western Sustainability Exchange

Board of directors
as of 10/12/2022
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board co-chair

Roger Indreland

Indreland Ranch Angus Beef

Term: 2019 - 2025


Board co-chair

Lara Birkes

Sonder

Term: 2019 - 2022

Mark Ledger

Retired

Carrie Balkcom

American Grassfed Association

Lill Erickson

Western Sustainability Exchange

Rebecca Kurnick

Montana Ale Works

Dylan Hoffman

Xanterra Parks and Resorts

Jim Evanoff

Retired, Yellowstone National Park

Brittany Masters

Roam Free Bison Ranch

Andrew Anderson

J Bar L Ranch

Malou Ramirez

Anderson Ranch

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 10/12/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.

Leadership

The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Multi-Racial/Multi-Ethnic (2+ races/ethnicities)
Gender identity
Female
Disability status
Person with a disability

The organization's co-leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
White/Caucasian/European
Gender identity
Male
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

 

Sexual orientation

No data

Disability

Equity strategies

Last updated: 04/01/2022

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

Data
  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
  • We have long-term strategic plans and measurable goals for creating a culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.
Policies and processes
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.