Mission Mountains Youth Crew Program

The Mission Mountains Youth Crew Program (MMYC) exposes youth living on the Flathead Reservation in Western Montana to career pathways in natural resources and helps build a bridge to college through a summer job program. In 2021, the National Forest Foundation ran a pilot of the Program with a crew of six high school-age students from local schools and two student crew leads from the Salish Kootenai College. The crew worked in and around the Mission Mountains for seven weeks, completing stewardship activities with both the Flathead National Forest and the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT).

The Mission Mountains are ancestral lands of the Bitterroot Salish and Pend d’Oreille and contain many heritage sites of historic significance to the Tribes. As recently as two hundred years ago, the Bitterroot Salish and Pend d’Oreille crossed the Missions annually as they made their way between western Montana’s river-carved valley floors and the bison hunting grounds beyond the Rocky Mountain Front. Culture and Language Department Head of the Salish Kootenai College and CSKT tribal member, MMYC Program Coordinator Tim Ryan is well-versed in this history and brings a heritage education component to the Program.

This unique landscape provides for cross-boundary stewardship. Today the Tribes manage the west side of the Mission Mountains and the Flathead National Forest manages the east side of the range. Crew members learn from Forest Service and CSKT specialists representing diverse disciplines, including aquatics, wildlife, heritage, and recreation. Both sides of the Missions include wilderness areas, providing opportunities to layer on education around wilderness management.

Program goals:

  • Building a bridge between high school and college
  • Job readiness and career development
  • Increased understanding of human’s historic and current role in managing the landscape
  • Personal growth
  • Relationship building between the Flathead National Forest and CSKT

In the pilot year, the crew spent time working on an ancestral trail that still exists today and spans both CSKT and Forest Service-managed sides of the Missions. Working cross boundary, crew members experience firsthand the opportunities, parallels, and differences between Forest Service and CSKT land management practices. MMYC also creates opportunities for relationship building between the Forest Service and CSKT.

MMYC is a partnership between CSKT Natural Resources Department, CSKT Tribal Education, the Salish Kootenai College, the U.S. Forest Service, Swan Valley Connections, and the National Forest Foundation.

Learn more about the NFF's Youth Programs.

Photo by Robert Kenning

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Marlee Ostheimer, Northern Rockies Program Manager, at 406.499.8049 or [email protected]