I first met Tom in the spring of 2005 shortly after moving to Bozeman to work for Jim Bauder with MSU Extension. We met because Tom and Jim had orchestrated a partnership between NRCS and MSU on a research project to evaluate water quality benefits from NRCS implementation of vegetated buffer strips between animal feeding operations and streams. There were four of these projects on ranches spread out across Southwest MT from the Beaverhead and the Big Hole to the tributaries of the Yellowstone. Traveling with Tom and Jim to meet the ranchers on each of these operations in these beautiful MT watersheds was a formative experience in my earliest days at MSU. The comfortable, informed and approachable way that Tom interacted with the ag producers set the stage for me to develop comfortable working relationships with the ranchers that carried through the next three years of visits to collect water quality data. This would never have been possible without the bridges Tom had built and those three years proved to be some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my career to that point.
Work on that project inspired me to pursue a related project for my masters degree starting in 2006 and I asked Tom to be on my graduate committee. Tom said he would be honored which I found very humbling because I felt the honor was all mine.
The theme of working closely with ag producers on research to address water resource issues was becoming strongly engrained and in 2011 I began a PhD project, this time working with wheat farmers in central MT. Again, I reached out to Tom and he agreed to be on the advisory committee for the project and to help lay the foundation for trusting relationships between the producers and the research team. Tom stepped off that committee when he retired from the NRCS, but I continued to talk to him about that and other projects through the years at meetings and social events.
Tom has been an inspirational part of my experiences in the watersheds and communities of MT. I would not be where I am today without his passion, kindness and help opening doors. Tom leaves behind an incredible legacy and lives on through the many lives and watersheds he has positively influenced.
Cheers my friend,