Human Ecology

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 79–89 | Cite as

Constitutionality in Montana: A Decade of Institution Building in the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area

  • Jill M. BelskyEmail author
  • Alexander Barton


Constitutionality is an approach that addresses how people shape their own institutions and rules for local natural resource use even amidst politically challenging conditions at multiple scales. In this paper we examine thelocal public-private partnership known as the Blackfoot Community Project in western Montana (U.S.A.) and its efforts to forstall increasing social and ecological fragmentation by purchasing and conveying thousands of acres of divested corporate timberlands into various conservation ownerships including a locally-owned community conservation area. Based on a decade of participatory research, we examine the creation and operation of the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area (BCCA)’s key governance institution, the BCCA Council, and its efforts to develop locally supported and effective procedures for two of its most contentious issues: motorized recreation and grazing. The analysis highlights strategies of deliberate and incremental processes of participation, cooperation across property boundaries, experimentation, adaptation, and rule modification to find compromises for combined local social and ecological benefits. The paper concludes with a discussion on the tensions raised between these accomplishments occurring in a boldly neoliberal nation-state and among increasingly heterogenous communities, and ongoing challenges entailed in using the market and private ownership (albeit governed by and for a collective of  local constituents) as a strategy to foster resource ownership and stewardship.


Constitutionality Community-based conservation Governance Local institutions Montana Western United States 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Society & ConservationUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA

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