The Blackfoot Challenge lost a great friend, ardent conservationist, and longtime board member with the recent passing of George Hirschenberger. An active participant in the Challenge for more than 30 years, George brought humor, humility, passion, and an exceptional ability to collaborate with a broad spectrum of people to the Blackfoot watershed’s conservation efforts. His legacy will serve as an enduring example of how to be successful in community-based conservation and stewardship. 

George began his long career in conservation with the Bureau of Land Management in 1974 and led early efforts to develop some of the first Environmental Impact Statements for the Upper Missouri River Breaks region. George went on to work for The Nature Conservancy and this position brought him to the Blackfoot in the early 1990s. George was on the ground level during the conversations between public agencies and community residents which would ultimately result in the creation of the Blackfoot Challenge. He worked diligently behind the scenes to secure resources and bring people together, and provided critical leadership in early efforts focused on integrated weed management. He became a Board Member in 2014 and served for many years as the Chair of the Forestry Committee. George’s strong background in botany, range management, and forestry provided him with a holistic approach to stewardship that inspired those who had the great fortune to work and collaborate with him. 

A Celebration of Life will be held for George on Monday, June 6 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Northern Rockies Heritage Center at 30 Fort Missoula Road in Missoula.

photo of george hirschenberger

“When we talk about the strength and value of people in conservation, George was one of the finest. His soft approach to listening and understanding, a perfection of getting to outcomes that made logical sense — those will be the things that build the foundation of trust and respect. George will be missed by all of us; his legacy will live for generations to come.” – Jim Stone, Board Chair

“George taught us to question our assumptions and to always think about what is best for the land. He was a mentor, leader, and friend to us all. I feel privileged to have known him.” – Seth Wilson, Executive Director

“George was an advocate for what was right for the land while remembering that people, who live, work, and recreate on the land really matter, and that people are complex. He had many stories about burning “back in the day,” and was an advocate for careful and thoughtful use of fire, while always making sure the ecological benefit was front and center There was a deliberateness to his thought process that I work hard to emulate.” – Cindy Super, Forestry & Prescribed Fire Coordinator

“George’s leadership on the Forestry Committee was thoughtful and solid, always peppered with good stories and a sense of humor. He shared his wealth of experience and knowledge in a way that did not overshadow or discourage new ideas, or even old ideas repackaged. For those of us lucky enough to have had George as a mentor, his support was unwavering. George exemplified the good work that can be accomplished when one remains humble, inquisitive, adaptive, and optimistic.” – Signe Leirfallom, former Forestry Coordinator