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Northwest Connections engages in community based projects which assist land managers and private land owners in better understanding, conserving, and restoring critical habitats and habitat connections in the Swan Valley and surrounding areas. We are exploring new ways to integrate local knowledge and conventional scientific processes in the conservation of Montana's rural forest lands.

The Goals:

Northwest Connections conducts long term ecological monitoring efforts which 1) provide important levels of information on wildlife and habitat linkages within and across the Swan Valley, 2) employ local people, 3) provide field-based learning opportunities for students and visitors, and 4) promote an ethic of land stewardship and the conservation of natural resources for future generations.

With our assistance, land owners and managers have current site specific information on how their properties connect to surrounding acreages; community members have functional ways to contribute their knowledge, ideas and energy to the task of ecosystem based management; students get into the field and learn about ecology and environmental issues first hand; and a diversity of citizens have the opportunity to explore their own connection to natural processes.

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The Philosophy:

NwC was initiated and is staffed by local community members. As an organization we believe that local knowledge adds depth and breadth to our scientific and educational work.

We are attempting to pioneer a 'new' way of looking at ecosystems: one that recognizes and appreciates the variability in nature and therefore the importance of information which is site specific and which is collected over an ample period of time.

We also believe that by including our rural community in the long term conservation of this place, we will build bridges between state and federal level conservation policies and the rural people who live, work and depend upon these lands.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What's the difference between NwC and Swan Ecosystem Center (SEC)?

Northwest Connections is located in the Swan Valley, but unlike SEC, we work beyond the geography of this watershed. NwC conducts ecological monitoring projects and field ecology courses in rural valleys all over Western Montana.  We host university students and interns from all over the United States. 

Why is NwC a non-profit?  

Where markets exist for the products we produce, Northwest Connections seeks contracts and/or fees-for-service to cover our costs.  There are, however, a number of services which we provide for which there is no current market.  As a not-for-profit business we can provide science and education for charitable purposes, under the IRS code 501 (c) 3, using donations from individuals and private foundations.

How does NwC fund itself?  

It varies depending upon the year.  In 2004, we were supported over 50% with a contract for the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear DNA project.  In 2006, our income breaks out as follows:

45% - Course Fees
25% - Foundation Grants
20% - Contracts
10% - Individual Donations

Do you have job positions open?

We are a small business, but we do look for strategic opportunities to grow.  If you have a background in natural resource management, education and/or community conservation, you are welcome to send us your resume.  We’ll contact you the next time we are looking to hire.

What is your connection to UM?

We maintain a ‘cultural’ connection to the University of Montana.  It is our closest university and one from which many of our staff have graduated.  All of our courses are offered for credit through UM’s Department of Extended Studies and Continuing Education.  We have always maintained at least one board member from the University of Montana.

Is NwC an advocacy group?

No.  Northwest Connections takes no positions on controversial environmental issues.  We believe that good information and full participation are the best avenues to environmental decision making.



Tom ParkerTom has been an environmentally minded outfitter and guide in the Swan Valley and surrounding wilderness areas for 25 years. He has worked several years as a research assistant for the Hornocker Wildlife Research Institute in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Tom has an intimate knowledge of the landscape and ecology of the Swan for which he is well respected by a wide array of citizens, scientists and activists in the region, the state and the country.  Tom directs Northwest Connections' research and monitoring programs.



Andrea StephensAndrea Stephens is a science teacher and environmental educator with fifteen years of experience involving students in hands-on monitoring and restoration projects. Her particular expertise is in watershed function and stream restoration.  Andrea has a Master's degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana where her thesis focused on teaching ecology through habitat restoration.  Andrea has worked for Northwest Connections for seven years.  Currently she teaches the Watershed Dynamics course for Landscape and Livelihood.  Andrea is also a full time mother of two Anna, 7, and Maria, 3.






Melanie has taught high school and university level Environmental Studies for sixteen years. Melanie has a graduate degree in Education and a Master's degree in Environmental Studies from University of Montana. Her Master's Thesis was titled, "The Ecological Basis for Community Participation in Land and Resource Conservation".   Melanie co-founded Northwest Connections and currently serves as the executive director.




Steve Lamar

Steve is Northwest Connection's program manager.  He has a B.S. in Outdoor Recreation from Murray State University.  Steve has worked for the Forest Service for 17 seasons as a forestry technician and backcountry ranger.  He has also worked as an outdoor instructor and guide for 12 seasons and is a rustic furniture craftsman.  Steve has worked for Northwest Connections as an instructor and field assistant on grizzly bear DNA and whitebark pine research projects.






Tiger is a third generation logger from the Swan Valley who has an intimate understanding of wildlife and habitat linkages. Tiger, and his wife Deb, both work with Northwest Connections in the Winter and Spring, tracking carnivores and setting up remote camera sets for grizzly bears.  When they're not working, they enjoy spending time with their three boys, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and horse packing in the mountains.










Mike, a native Montanan and long time trapper in the Swan Valley and Bob Marshall Wilderness, also has a firm grasp of the site specific ecology of several of our threatened and endangered species. Mike works as a master woodworker and building contractor, and contributes to NwC monitoring and education programs part time.  Mike enjoys journeying across the mountains to the Blackfoot Indian Reservation where both he and his wife spend time with family and old friends.







Maureen graduated with an M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana in 2004.  Her graduate work focused on the divestment of corporate timberlands and the conservation strategies being utilized to maintain rural landscapes and working forests.  Prior to her graduate work, she spent 5 years working for various government agencies (USGS, USFS, NPS) doing wildlife and forestry related fieldwork.  She has been working for Northwest Connections for the past 2 years as a field assistant on grizzly bear DNA research and as an instructor for Landscape and Livelihood.  She is an avid trail runner and enjoys any outdoor activity that helps her to explore the wonders of the natural world.





Adam Lieberg has spent the last 6 years sharing his time between the Swan Valley, Blackfoot Valley, and Missoula.  While completing his undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, Adam was also busy taking courses, interning, and eventually instructing for Northwest Connection.  Both a Winter Field Studies and Landscape and Livelihood alumni, he currently teaches the Winter Field Studies and the Animal Tracking Clinic courses.  Adam also spends a good deal of time working for the University of Montana’s Division of Biological Studies as the lead field technician on a long-term predator, small mammal, and vegetation research project in the Blackfoot Valley.  Adam has a passion for studying the natural world and enjoys teaching natural history to people of all ages.





Grace is the administrative assistant for Northwest Connections.  She was born in North Carolina and lived in Virginia until she moved to Condon with her husband in May of 2005.    She has three grown children and a grandson.  She enjoys her church, spending time with friends and gardening.





Jessie is the outreach coordinator and has contributed to NwC field projects since 2001.  Jessie has a B.S. in biology, and a B.A. in philosophy from Rocky Mountain College.  When she is not working, she is likely to be found outside, hiking, biking, or horseback riding.  Jessie volunteers with the local ambulance as an NR-EMT, and is a member of Missoula County Search and Rescue.   One of her greatest undertakings has been the training of two Search and Rescue dogs.






Susan is Northwest Connections' marketing coordinator. She traded in her high-paced corporate career for an idyllic life in the Swan Valley with her husband, Jack and Siberian huskies. 





Board Members:

George Beck
Swan Valley resident

George was raised on the Swan Valley homestead where NwC is located and has vivid memories of the primitive "good old days" when he had to haul water, milk the cows, separate the cream by hand, feed the chickens, put up the hay by horse and pitchfork all by the light of day.  George retired from a 25 year teaching career in 2002. He and his wife Emily, enjoy spending Spring and Fall in Montana and Summer and Winter in Alaska. They have four children and five grandsons. They enjoy the natural environment wherever they are by hiking, camping, canoeing, skiing, traveling, and watching wildlife.

Gary Freyholtz
Swan Valley Log Crafters, Swan Valley

Our Board Vice-President, Gary is the owner of Swan Valley Log Crafters and has been a log home builder and designer for 21 years. He is also the chairman of Swan Valley Elementary School Board.  Gary was born in Bemidji, MN and arrived in Condon in 1968. He has been married to Wanda for 23 years and they have one son, Bryce. Gary loves to hunt, fish and enjoy the great outdoors.

Katie (Kit) Johnston
Undergraduate Student, University of Montana

Kit was a Landscape and Livelihood student in the fall of 2006.  She is currently a student at the University of Montana, where she is majoring in Environmental Studies and Communication Studies with a focus on Rhetoric and Public Discourse. Her main interests include conservation, conflict resolution, and community collaboration. Kit loves the mountains and rivers of Western Montana and being outdoors.  She is an avid backpacker and biker. 

Mary Mitsos
National Forest Foundation, Missoula, MT

Mary is NwC's Board President and Vice- President of the National Forest Foundation (NFF). Chartered by Congress in 1990, the NFF engages America in community-based and national programs that promote the health and public enjoyment of the 192-million-acre National Forest System.  Mary provides leadership for NFF’s conservation programs, facilitates many diverse community groups, and provides technical assistance on public lands issues. Her specialized interests are in collaborative stewardship and contracting mechanisms on public forestlands, conservation-based development and strengthening the working relationship between local communities and forestland managers.

Tom Parker
Buck Creek Guide Service, Swan Valley

Tom has been a hunting guide in the Swan Valley and surrounding wilderness areas for 32 years.  In 1978, he started his own outfitting business called Buck Creek Guide Service.  He still offers big game hunts during the fall general season.  Tom grew up in western Pennsylvania and lived as a young man in northern Maine.  He moved to the Swan Valley in 1974.  In addition to guiding he has made his living trapping, mule packing, building log homes, doing forest management and for the past 15 years, increasingly in the wildlife research and conservation field.  Tom and his wife Melanie founded Northwest Connections in 1996.  Tom has been on the board of directors for ten years.


Steve Siebert
College of Forestry and Conservation, 
University of Montana

Our Board Treasurer, is a professor in the UM College of Forestry and Conservation where he teaches and conducts research on the ecology and management of working landscapes.  His recent field work has focused on biophysical changes associated with agricultural intensification in Sulawesi, Indonesia and Crete, Greece, and on the ecology and management of non-timber forest products, specifically rattan palms, in Indonesia.  At UM he directs the International Resource Management program, an M.S. degree program in which students integrate one year of coursework with applied resource conservation and management field work, primarily in the tropics.  His family owns a 42 acre certified stewardship forest in western Washington where they are working to restore ‘old growth’ Douglas fir through selective timber harvesting. 




Ben Thompson
RBM Lumber, Columbia Falls, MT

Ben is the Board Secretary. His passion is working in the woods with nature. He is part owner of RBM Lumber, a family owned and operated sawmill and logging operation located in Columbia Falls, MT. The mill, founded by Ben and his brother Roy in the 1970’s, has grown from a 3-man show to a business that now employs more then 25 people. RBM uses creative market approaches as part of a solution oriented way to maintain a sustainable future for Montana’s wood products industry.  Ben says he has “never been a follower of trends and cares deeply about all living things and the awesome network they create.”


Sarah Van de Wetering
Environmental Consultant and Writer

Sarah is a natural resources writer and policy consultant in Missoula, Montana. Her most recent book is Across the Great Divide: Explorations in Collaborative Conservation and the American West  (2001, with Philip Brick and Donald Snow), a compilation of essays and stories from the Chronicle of Community, of which Van de Wetering was the managing editor from 1996-2000. She has published law review articles, research reports, and books on natural resources law and policy.  Sarah is a fellow with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Next Generation Leadership Program, an elected member of the Missoula City Local Government Study Commission, a volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocate, a board member of several community-based conservation organizations, and the mother of two young children. She is a graduate of Colorado State University (1984) and the University of Colorado School of Law (1988).


NwC Funding

Breakdown of Annual Funding Sources:

Funding distribution




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