Work on MPG Ranch inspires next generation of conservationists

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Work on MPG Ranch inspires next generation of conservationists

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Original story from The Missoulian.

LOLO - Some of Joshua Lisbon’s earliest memories are of tracks in the snow.

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, with easy access to hundreds of forested acres, Lisbon remembers cold winter hikes and his father patiently teaching him about the variety of tracks that animals make as they traverse the landscape.

“That was something I really enjoyed as a boy,” he said. “I had a very idyllic childhood.”

For the last 10 years, Lisbon has made it a point to share his love for everything wild with young people in western Montana.

He feels incredibly fortunate to have landed here.

“I left my hometown on a four-month-long road trip in search of a new place to live,” he said. “I left looking for a place with a good sense of community. I also wanted a place with easy access to wilderness. Missoula had both of those things in abundance.”

His first job was with the local nonprofit, Women’s Opportunity and Resource Development, where he worked with at-risk children. Lisbon ran the organization’s summer camp, helped provide academic support in local schools and eventually created a wilderness program for high school students.

“It was a unique situation,” he said. “I had a chance to work with kids starting when they were 9 and following them all the way through to their high school graduation. I was able to nurture them. As a result, I built a strong relationship with the kids and their families. It was a really wonderful experience and one that I enjoyed immensely.”

Lisbon was especially enthralled with the ways the wilderness setting impacted both his teaching style and the way students interacted with each other.

“In the wilderness, you’re forced to be real,” Lisbon said. “You can’t hide behind the social mask that you’ve invented for yourself. You’re forced to be real on a level that’s really beautiful. It helps you develop a really good sense of authenticity that can be helpful when it comes to developing positive relationships later in life.”


Three years ago, Lisbon took all that he had learned to the folks who operated the sprawling, 10,000-acre MPG Ranch and offered them a chance to expand their education and outreach offerings.

“I had already collaborated with them to create summer internships,” he said. “I was a known entity to the ranch. When I pitched my idea, they liked it.”

Lisbon now works with both young and old in sharing the MPG Ranch’s mission of inspiring the next generation of conservationists.

This summer, he’ll work in conjunction with the Ecology Project International organization to create opportunities for high-school-aged naturalists to walk alongside researchers gathering information on everything from butterflies to soils.

When the snow falls, he’ll reach back to his earliest days while working alongside University of Montana students tracking carnivores across the wildest reaches of the ranch.

In between all of that, Lisbon works closely with local citizen-scientist volunteers banding birds, documenting migrating raptors and replacing miles of old barbwire fences with wildlife-friendly barriers.

“If I feel like I’m doing right by the land and I’m going right by wildlife and I’m doing right by youth, then I feel like I’m doing good,” he said. “I feel really fortunate to be able to have this opportunity.”

His co-worker, Katharine Roggeveen, has witnessed first-hand the impact Lisbon has had on the community.

“Joshua is an exceptional human being,” Roggeveen wrote in a nomination letter. “He genuinely cares about people, his community, and educating students about native landscape restoration and wildlife. Joshua empowers people and does whatever it takes to give people a positive and educational experience.”

“I feel grateful to know him and am appreciative of the opportunity to work with him every chance I get,” she wrote.

MPG Ranch education and community outreach manager
Hometown: Doylestown, Penn.

Hobbies: Anything that keeps me outside in the natural world, hunting, fishing, hiking mountain biking, backpacking, rock climbing. I also enjoy developing my primitive wilderness skills like hide tanning and tool production. For me, it’s not about survival. It’s about developing a relationship with the natural world.

Best business advice: Be honest, authentic, and reliable. Above all, nurture good relationships and work to benefit the greater community.

Keys to success: There is a quote attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." I would advise, as he did, to prepare for what you want in life and to seize opportunities when they present themselves. But to this I would add, do not be afraid to take risks.