Spence and his wife, Lil, at Spence’s Retirement Celebration
Spencer “Spence” Hegstad, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Foundation’s Executive Director retired on December 31, 2011. Spence served the Foundation as it’s Executive Director since the Foundation was created in 1999 with the mission of raising private funds for projects beyond the scope of where Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department can spend hunting and fishing license dollars, the department’s primary funding source. Since 1999 the Foundation has raised more than $4.5 million under Hegstad’s leadership. These funds have been used in support of the Foundation’s various programs and projects and were raised primarily through foundation grants, philanthropic donations and corporate partnerships.
When the Foundation was formed under the leadership of then FWP Director, Pat Graham, Spence was the chief architect behind the develpment of the Foundation’s infrastructure, corporate documents and the recruitment of its Board Members. Soon after the Foundation was formed, Montana’s Senator Max Baucus authored legislation in 1999 that allowed 265 cabin owners to purchase their plots at Canyon Ferry Reservoir from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Ninety percent of the proceeds from the sales of the cabin sites were to be deposited in a permanent perpetual public trust in Montana to be known as the “Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust.”
When the Department of Interior sent out a proposal seeking a Trust Manager to oversee the cabin sales, invest the funds received from the cabin sites and disburse annual distributions for acquiring publicly accessible land that would protect and enhance Montana lands for conservation and access, Hegstad persuaded the MFWP Foundation board to seek the Trust Manager role. In 2002, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton appointed the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks Foundation to be the Trust Manager of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
With the appointment of the Foundation as the Trust Manager, the Foundation’s efforts turned to its duties as Trust Manager. Hegstad’s leadership was instrumental in the timely sale of the 265 lots on Canyon Ferry Reservoir with the first lot being sold on June 19, 2002 and the last lot sold on July 12, 2005. The sales of the cabin sites and the lease payments generated a total of $14,945,403 for the Trust which were invested and shall remain in perpetuity. Annual earnings ( approximately 4%) from the Trust are used to fund projects proposed by local and regional organizations. Since 2005 the value of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust has grown to nearly $20,000,000 and has provided nearly $5 million in funding that will protect and enhance Montana lands for conservation and access.
With the Trust Manager’s role well underway, Hegstad turned his attention and that of the Foundation to its original flagship project, the Partners-in-Life program. The core element of the program is a concept called “Bear Shepherding,” in which problem grizzlies are taught to stay away from humans using aversive conditioning tools such as red pepper spray, rubber bullets, and specially trained Karelian bear dogs originally imported from northern Europe. The combination of Bear Shepherding, along with educating people about how to live in bear country, has helped reduce conflicts betweens grizzlies and humans in northwestern Montana.
This very successful program paved way to the Foundation’s current Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Augmentation program which is a continuation of the Foundation’s partnership with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. The Grizzly Bear Augmentation program was begun in 2007 and it continues today as a major Foundation project with more than $250,000 being raised for grizzly bear conservation.
In addition to funding projects in partnership with FWP, under Hegstad’s leadership the Foundation has developed lasting partnerships with federal agencies and other conservation organizations whose missions coincide with the Foundation’s mission. The United States Forest Service, Pheasants Forever, Prickly Pear Land Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, and the Foundation for Animals are some of the Foundation’s partners for whom ithas provided funding in support of their major programs.
“Spencer’s enthusiasm, leadership and administrative oversight has served the Foundation and our Board very well for more than a dozen years,” noted MFWP Foundation Board Chair, Earl Sherron. ”As he leaves, the Foundation is more prepared than ever to move on to its second decade.”
Spence Hegstad, left, and MFWP Foundation Board Chair, Earl Sherron
Upon his retirement Spence, with his wife, Lil and his children in attendance, repeated his often stated vision, “I don’t have to tell anyone that Montana is a special place. But keeping it that way for our great-grandkids to appreciate and enjoy is the challenge.” He went on to say, “The foundation gives folks from all walks of life who love this state for its beauty, wildlife and history the opportunity to put some of their personal resources into conservation projects that can really make a difference. By bringing the public, other conservation groups, and state and federal agencies together, we can accomplish much more to preserve what I like to call the magic that is Montana.”
Spence is an avid hunter and fisherman and will be spending many more days with his pals in his drift boat on the Beaverhead. He and Lil will also have a lot more time to enjoy with their children and grandchildren.*Donate to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Foundation