Ed Arnett with Dayton Duncan
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With the conventions over, the heat of campaign season is before us—and it’s not too late to voice your concern for conservation priorities
The confetti and balloons have been swept from the floors of both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, marking the traditional beginning of the general election season, a flurry of activity that will run through November 8. We all know what to expect: commercials, debates, door-knocking, bumper stickers, yard signs, and social media posts from our friends. Of course, in the midst of all this, the one thing that all Americans seem to agree on is that they have already grown weary of an election that has been going on for well over a year.
As a delegate myself, to the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, I can attest that the messages the parties and candidates seek to deliver, both to those in the room and those watching from their living rooms, are pretty similar and follow a predictable course. A heavy dose of keeping American families safe, growing the economy, and creating good-paying jobs, plus assurances of competence and clarity of vision. The formula was alive and well in Cleveland and Philadelphia. It is the tale as old as time.
But after listening to the convention speeches of both candidates, and many other speakers, any sportsman would feel overlooked. Both parties missed a golden opportunity to communicate with an essential constituency, one important to anyone who hopes to actually win a national election. Neither candidate made a direct pitch to the more than 40 million Americans who hunt and fish, and in the process, contribute nearly $100 billion to the national economy.
What would a real pitch to sportsmen look like? A commitment to renewing the investment in fish and wildlife habitat conservation programs that benefit all Americans. A pledge to defend the values of common opportunity implicit in our national public lands. A vow to support the conservation of our private working lands. Perhaps a promise to enhance recreational access to our nation’s woods, fields, and waters.
Many candidates for elected office at all levels have created, or will soon create, sportsmen’s coalitions to support their candidacy, an acknowledgement that hunters and anglers are an important constituency, one that turns out to vote in higher numbers than many other subsets of the population. But we often don’t demand enough from candidates in exchange for our votes. So, this campaign season, attend a candidate forum or town hall, and ask questions about sportsmen’s priorities. Utilize your Facebook and Twitter accounts to put issues important to hunters and anglers in front of the candidates. Email their campaigns, in a thoughtful way, to share the things sportsmen and women in your part of the world are thinking about.
Candidates often profess to champion what America’s sportsmen care about, but it is up to us to let them know.
Our senior scientist can trace his career aspirations back to a single moment involving a Yellowstone black bear, the back of his grandfather’s pickup, and a fresh view of the American West
I was 12 years old and mere feet away from the black bear standing on its hind legs, peering into the bed of our pickup truck. Safe in the truck cab with my grandparents, windows rolled up tight, I was transfixed as the bear crawled into the back and rooted around for a cooler to raid. He came up empty after a few minutes and moved on to the next vehicle in his search for a free meal. The pickup was left with some minor scratches, but the bear encounter left a major impression on me. That afternoon in 1975, I departed Yellowstone National Park thrilled, curious, and full of new experiences. Little did I know, I’d just been catapulted onto the path of my own professional destiny.
I suspect few of us go on to actually become what we said we wanted to be in grade school, or even have the chance to do so. I, for one, have never deviated—I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, and I’ve never looked back. Even before that journey to visit several of our national parks, the skids were thoroughly greased from years of hunting, fishing, and being outdoors as much as possible. I spent hours watching many of Walt Disney’s documentary films on animals and every episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom—the Animal Planet or Crocodile Hunter of my youth. I was determined to follow New York Tribune editor Horace Greely’s advice from 1871 and “Go West” as a young man to pursue my dreams.
And indeed I did—right after high school, I headed first to the West Slope of Colorado for college in Glenwood Springs and then onto Montana State University to complete a Bachelor’s degree in wildlife management. Where could one possibly get a better wildlife education than a 90–minute drive away from the park’s northern entrance? On my way to Bozeman for the fall semester, I returned to Yellowstone for the first time in nearly a decade and retraced much of the route I’d traveled with my family years earlier. While attending the university, I took my time in Yellowstone for granted—I went to the park whenever I wanted, and it became a showcase for my friends and family when they came to visit me.
In my adult life, I’ve been back to Yellowstone umpteen times, seen hundreds of bears, and had many soul-stirring experiences. I’m sure I’m not alone. In the last 100 years, our National Park System has no doubt helped inspire many an imagination and spark a sense of adventure for children and adults alike.
It turns out that another of those children was historian, author, and filmmaker Dayton Duncan, who conspired with Ken Burns to co-produce the fabulous documentary series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” He revealed his own youthful adventures, ones that were eerily similar to my own, as keynote speaker at this summer’s Western Governors’ Association Meeting in Jackson, Wyo. He held back tears as he described how his mother took the family on a journey to see the national parks, including Yellowstone, and as he spoke, all I could see were visions of my own family and me on our adventures in the park. I couldn’t resist going up to Dayton afterward to thank him for such a great tribute to the National Park System. I told him that he could have been describing my own experiences as a child.
Dayton Duncan and I were lucky—our families took the initiative to get us into the car and out to see the treasured gems of our public lands system. No parent should ever underestimate the power of these outdoor experiences for their children. There’s no better time to visit the national parks as America celebrates 100 years of their wild power and serenity. The next generation of biologists, authors, filmmakers, and other advocates of the great outdoors could be born on that next trip to your public lands.
Find your park here, and perhaps, like me, you’ll find your path out there.
All month long, we’re celebrating the National Park Service centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. Check back here for new posts from the TRCP staff and special guests, and follow the hashtag #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
What does the future hold for this beloved waterway, built on a history of local collaboration and respect?
The crew is spread from here to hell and gone. Everybody is happy.
Dana, Allen, Kay, BJ, Margaret, and Cinclair are lounging in camp chairs they purposely planted in the rushing water. They are ankle-deep in the Smith River, one of Montana’s jewels and one of the West’s most famous floats. The temperatures are somewhere north of 90, and the parents and grandparents are cooling off after a round of chores that come with a five-day river trip.
Grace is trying to get Chandler and Jillian to don their lifejackets and float through a riffle. The excited squeals of a ten-year-old and a six-year-old bounce off the canyon’s walls. Sophie and Claire are hiking to a rock outcropping across the river. Their progress is monitored closely by the riverside cocktail drinkers, who worry about snakes and climbing injuries. Jake is snorkeling, trying to find the river’s famed rainbows and browns. Kendall is awaiting Jake’s report as he sorts his fly box.
Cellphones are useless and nobody is thinking about Trump or Clinton, police shootings or terrorism. Our world has been reduced to the river’s quiet rhythm, buzzing insects, and the occasional roar of upstream winds. Our cocoon is enclosed by the canyon’s alabaster cliffs, the green hues of the forest, and painfully blue sky.
The Smith’s Ancestry: Cooperation
Each year, more than 5,000 people experience this public treasure slicing between the Big Belt and Little Belt Mountains in central Montana. With a permit, you can fish 59 miles of the Smith, productive trout habitat stretching through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, even though 80 percent of the river’s banks are privately owned.
Use of this beloved river is the result of cooperation, ingenuity, and patience. The Smith is an economic driver today because of the foresight of Montanans, who started lobbying for its public use nearly 75 years ago.
“The cooperation that has led to the Smith’s success as an economic driver has also created a group of people who are invested in the river,” said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “We are all tied by the fact that we love the Smith and we don’t want it to change.”
People, including state officials, first floated the idea of a state park in 1953, but it failed due to fears that a park designation would draw crowds who would trample the special area and impinge on private landowner rights. Undaunted, a small group of Montana officials kept working to find a way to keep the river bottoms from being lost forever to private interests.
In 1970, public use of the river corridor got a boost from the Governor’s Council on Natural Resources and Development, which recommended that the Smith River not be developed as a state park but as the Smith State Recreational Waterway. This would permit the exchange of state lands for private lands and help set aside funding for acquiring easements.
Through a series of meetings between Smith River landowners and FWP starting that same year, a collaborative was formed to manage the river’s ever-growing use. In 1989, the Montana Legislature passed the Smith River Management Act, and in 1993, FWP instituted a permit system with daily launch limits. The state also negotiated leases of private property to create camping areas.
Regulations have evolved over the years and the river’s management is now a sterling example of how disparate interests—the Forest Service, counties, private landowners, business owners, state officials, and the recreating public—can partner to use public water that is largely surrounded by private property.
A New Challenge
But the Smith River and its legion of fans face a new challenge: The Black Butte Copper Project. Tintina Resources, a Canadian subsidiary of an Australian mining corporation, is proposing a $218-million copper mine around Sheep Creek, which provides roughly half of the Smith’s headwaters. Mine-backers tout the company’s strong environmental record, plus the possibility of job creation and tax revenue. They say $2 billion in high-grade ore is ready to be mined by more than 200 people.
Conservation groups, such as Trout Unlimited, are concerned, arguing that Montana’s long list of hard-rock mining issues—the state has 17 Superfund sites—show an industry unfit to make claims that they will be good neighbors. The “good neighbor” argument isn’t gaining traction with locals either, according to rancher Willie Rahr. “Mining companies have been saying, ‘We have the best, newest technology’ for generations,” Rahr told the New York Times in 2015, “but something always happens.”
Early efforts to slow Tintina’s progress have been mixed. The mining company is currently awaiting state approval, and if all goes according to plan, the mine could be functional as early as 2020. Montana TU’s Farling said that timeline is unrealistic, but he is keeping a close eye on the slow-moving permit process. All the while, he continues to make the argument that the Smith is a sustainable economic driver—fishing alone generates $8 million annually—while the mine is unsustainable, shortsighted, and risky.
Back on the river, our camp chairs have been fished from the water and now ring the fire pit. Stars start to pop from the darkening skies. Fly rods and snorkeling gear have been stowed and three generations of two families discuss the river’s future. As carefree as we are out here, there’s room for concern.
Naturally, our crew decides the mine is too risky, but we have faith that the people who enjoy the famed river will unite, like they have in the past, to make a case for protecting this river and its headwaters. We don’t need to mine for riches—the real treasure was realized 75 years ago.
Our Montana field representative sits down for a Q&A with his daughter after her unique experience in wildfire country. Here’s what she learned about forestry and conservation
I remember a whitetail deer hunt where I was lying in the prone position, ready to shoot, with my young daughter Ali lying on my back. She was so excited when the deer went down! Ali is 22 years old now, and she still loves the outdoors. She graduated from Villanova University this past May and couldn’t wait to get back to Montana, where she was hired to work on a forestry crew with the University of Montana.
One of her assignments recently took her on a two-week pack trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex to collect data on fire ecology. This area in northwest Montana—named for the legendary forester and conservationist Bob Marshall—was designated by Congress as part of the Wilderness Act of 1964. It spans over one million acres along the continental divide and is the fifth-largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states, attracting fishermen, hunters, and recreationists from around the world. As in other parts of the country, fires are unfortunately becoming more common in the Bob, and Ali’s crew was sent to help study how this ecosystem rebounds differently based on whether burn areas were managed or unmanaged forests before the fire.
I thought this was an amazing opportunity for Ali—and I was pretty jealous that I couldn’t go along. So, when she returned from the trip, I asked her to share her experience.
Scott: Ali, I can’t wait to hear all about the trip. What was the makeup of the crew and where exactly did you go?
Ali: There were ten of us on the crew. We hiked in 40 miles and set up camp at the confluence of Gordon Creek and the South Fork of the Flathead River. We had our food packed in by a team of mules and spent two weeks hiking to our burn sites, moving camp downriver every few days. At the end of the trip, we tied our gear to the front of our pack rafts and floated down the river to the south end of Hungry Horse Reservoir.
Scott: What is the purpose of the research project that you were working on? How will this research on fire affect our public lands, and why do you think sportsmen should care about it?
Ali: Fire is playing an increasingly dominant role on our public lands, particularly as fire seasons are getting longer and hotter. We were there to learn more about the effects of fires in unmanaged lands versus fires in areas previously logged, thinned, or previously introduced to fire through a prescribed burn. With healthy forests come healthy wildlife populations for all of us to enjoy, including sportsmen.
Scott: What was your typical day like?
Ali: The daily hikes to the burn sites were long, three to six miles. We climbed our way through lodge pole stands and up steep ridges. We saw wildlife every day and heard wolves at night. One day a small herd of elk walked right by us in the early morning frost. Yes, frost, in June! We were there to conduct research, but we also got to enjoy the land and gain appreciation for this wonderful place that belongs to all of us. It was clear that the other people we ran into were enjoying the Bob as well. We saw groups floating down the river, spoke with fly fishing guides taking their guests on spectacular trips, and we met a couple scouting for their fall elk hunt.
We spent our free time reading by the river, watching waterfowl bathe and deer tug at bites of grass in stands of old-growth Ponderosa. In the cool evenings at the end of the day we were able to forget the clattering notions of work and worry that shadow us in our everyday lives, and finally enjoy a piece of land full of both loveliness and majesty—an object of awe and love, requiring attention but not toil. It was a treat being surrounded by millions of acres of wild land, knowing that this place is open to all of us. It’s a treasure to spend a quiet hour fly fishing and pull a cutthroat out of the river for dinner, while watching an osprey slope down the side of the valley towards the water, looking for that same meal. I can’t wait to get back up there.
I get goosebumps hearing my daughter describe her attraction and admiration for the natural beauty of our public lands that she, like the rest of us, is so fortunate to have. Seeing this trip through her eyes makes me feel validated for my own effort in TRCP’s mission to protect and improve these resources for future generations. Our forefathers established a system of wildlife management and natural resources held in the public domain, a system that is the envy of the world. These public lands are for all of us to enjoy, use wisely, and pass on to the next generation of outdoorsmen and women.
I’m certainly glad I have a daughter who appreciates that.
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More