Alum Jessy Stevenson Shares Stories to Promote River Conservation

Alum Jessy Stevenson knows the power of good story. As part of her work at American Rivers, Jessy recently completed an ArcGIS StoryMap project about six dams in Montana that were once proposed but never built. Montana’s Legacy of River Protection weaves together local voices, interactive maps, photography and history to tell the tales of the places and people who would have been affected if the dams been built.

Jessy StevensonJessy graduated from the University of Montana in 2019 with a B.S. in resource conservation and in environmental studies and with a wilderness studies minor from the Wilderness and Civilization program.

“Stories are one of the most powerful tools we have, especially now. They offer us the opportunity to learn from the lessons of our past and make more educated, equitable and engaged decisions moving forward,” Jessy said. “As we face the challenges ahead of us, we must also look back, and that’s where this StoryMap comes into play. The six dams in this project are but a few of the dozens proposed throughout Montana between the 1940s and 1970s, and a tiny fraction of the hundreds proposed across the nation, but their stories are powerful. They remind us of what could have been had local communities not taken a stand for the rivers, landscapes and livelihoods that continue to shape them today, and what still could be if we don’t take action to protect them into the future.”

She currently is the Montana public lands fellow at American Rivers’ Northern Rockies Office. In her position, Jessy engages in local forest plan revisions and other public land management processes, serves on American Rivers’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, and works with the Montanans for Healthy Rivers Coalition to gain permanent protection for more rivers and streams throughout the state.

The StoryMap project directly supports MHR’s work to pass the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, a bill introduced by Senator Jon Tester in November 2020 which would add 336 miles of 17 rivers and streams to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Jessy helped compile and write the stories and spent hours interviewing Montanans for the project.

“We say rivers connect us, and they do, but it’s the stories they carry downstream, the ones that stick in the mud and seep into the ground, that really bring us together,” she said. “Being trusted with those stories and building relationships with the people who tell them is by far my favorite part of any project.”

Jessy came to UM in 2012 as a resource conservation major and then took a two-year hiatus to study agroforestry in Costa Rica and work as a woodworker and carpenter in Montana. When she returned to UM in 2016, she was looking for a way to strike a balance between time spent in the classroom and hands-on learning. She says the Wilderness and Civ program struck the perfect balance.

“I was raised in rural, northwest Montana and learned at an early age that while natural resources and decisions around how to manage them can easily divide us, they can also connect and unite us. Wilderness and Civ drove that lesson home and fueled my passion for working with people in the landscapes that support their livelihoods and shape who they are,” Jessy said. “Wilderness and Civ taught me that finding ways to share and communicate those stories is absolutely vital to the work we do as conservationists, scientists, educators and just about all other fields of work.”

Jessy is still involved with the Wilderness and Civ program, serving as a leader for field trips and treks and mentoring current students.

In her spare time, Jessy serves on Swan Valley Connections’ board of directors and the Flathead Rivers Alliance advisory board, guides bike trips for The Cycling House, and works as an independent illustrator and woodworker.

(Photo: Jessy Stevenson and her very good adventure dog, Naki. Courtesy of Forrest Smith)