In praise of rock throwers

9781610915588There is a new book out, Keeping the Wild, a compilation of essays and articles edited by George Wuerthner, Eileen Crist, and Tom Butler. I have not read it but will, and wanted to promote it here as it was recommended to me by a rock thrower over the weekend.

I used to be a volunteer for Montana Wilderness Association. This was the period from perhaps 1992 to 2000 or so – I am not clear. I sat through endless meetings, but it was a learning process more than a time when I was doing effective work. It was like being dropped in the middle of the Keebler Elf cookie factory, a buzz of activity and left to me to figure out who’s doing what and who is in charge. I joined because I like the product.

I do remember a trip to Great Falls in the early 1990’s with the Eastern Montana organizer, Tammy, to meet with people from the Pew Charitable Trusts and try to get some financial support. I was determined at that time to try to understand Max Baucus, and so took with me a yellow legal pad so that I could jot down thoughts as we traveled. I remember that. That was just a beginning, of course, and a long period of self-education followed, still going on. But I did ask a question.

In the aftermath, and memories are not clear, I do know that we were turned down by Pew, and that Tammy was disappointed. A young fellow from back east, John Adams, the successor organizer for the Eastern office, would later tell me that he was of the impression Pew was trying to take over the program for MWA, and offered grants only if the organization conformed to its objectives, abandoning its own.

At that time, I recall MWA having three paid staff in Helena, Bob Decker, Executive Director, John Gatchell, Conservation Director, and Susan, the administrative assistant. There were also paid field offices in Great Falls, Billings, and a couple of other places. It had a host of volunteers*, the old guard, the men and women who formed the organization and fought and won many of the wilderness areas that Montana still enjoys. These men, like Joe Gutkowski, Don Mazola, and two I never met, the Baldwins, and a host of others whose faces I know but names I’ve lost, formed a backbone of directed energy that accomplished goals over a long-term. I do hope that in writing this people come along and refresh my memory, as too much time has passed since my involvement. I would like that list of names, as I could not find it at the MWA website.

An important feature of MWA was poverty. Bob Decker, an engineer by trade, along with Gatchell and Susan, made very little money despite having good skills and talents. That’s a hard way to live, but is part of the deal in the environmental movement ethos – there isn’t a lot of money to be had. Poverty draws out the dedicated souls who are more concerned about mission than comfort. But that’s easy to say of other people. I always wanted to make enough money to be comfortable. So did they. So do we all.

Decker left. Susan probably retired. Gatchell is still there. Pew moved in. Pew won. Here’s a list of current staff of MWA:

  • Bryan Sybert, Executive Director
  • Carl Deitchman, Finance Director
  • Laura Parr, Business Manager
  • Amanda Hagertym, Administrative Assistant
  • Sarah Shepard, CFRE, Development Director
  • Kassia Randzio, Development Coordinator
  • Molly Severtson, Donor Relations Manager
  • Denny Lester, Communications Coordinator
  • Gabriel Furshong, State Program Director
  • Mark Good, Central Montana Field Director;
  • Casey Perkins, Rocky Mountain Front Field Director
  • Zack Porter, NEXGen Program Director
  • Amy Robinson, Northwest Montana Wilderness Field Director
  • Cameron Sapp, Eastern Montana Field Representative
  • John Todd, Southwest Montana Field Director
  • John Gatchell, Conservation Director
  • Shannon Freix, CDT Montana Program Director
  • Meg Killen, CDT Montana Field Crew Leader
  • Sonny Mazzulo, CDT Montana Field Coordinator
  • Cedron Jones, GIS Mapping Specialist

Good heavens! That’s not a dedicated group of volunteers – these are mostly degrees and salaries and the hubris that goes with that. Quite a few are dedicated to “development,” or keeping the engine going that pays the salaries. It’s become a self-feeding machine that needs a continual source of new food to keep going.

Wilderness has always been a tough fight, but the fighters left MWA as the Pew children moved in. The culture changed. These folks, one in particular, refer to the old guard as “rock throwers.” The new guard are well paid I assume, and comfortable with development of donors instead of wilderness. These are our “collaborators.” They throw rocks at outfits like Alliance for a Wild Rockies, the men and women who fight the fights that MWA used to help out with.

I once referred in a blog comment to a similar experience that Trout Unlimited experienced, an influx of foundation money, as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” These people talk like wilderness advocates, and they all attach their canoeing and hiking affectations to their resumes. Perhaps they’ve noticed, then, as I have, that the back country is virtually empty these days, as are parking lots at trail heads. That was our constituency, wilderness users. Without them, it will soon be rolled over by ATV’s and snowmobiles and loggers, the people whom MWA collaborates with.

MWA website is littered with pictures of cherished areas. Gone are any references to the founders, any history. If anyone criticizes them for selling out, as they surely have, they are likely to get that piercing and deeply disturbing scream that Donald Sutherland did so well in the 1978 movie about moving automatons into the bodies of real people.

These people, the current staff of MWA, and there are two that were there when I was there, will never know the thrill of a victory. They don’t try to win anything. But they also don’t know the other part of being alive, as essential as an occasional victory, the pain of defeat. Since they don’t try to win, by definition, they don’t know what it is to lose. So life is good for them.

It’s always been easy to call losing something else. But that’s what they do for living.
*Do not confuse “volunteers” with “membership.” There were perhaps thirty hard-core volunteers even as MWA listed thousands of members. The requirement for members was a $35 annual contribution, and it had a four-fold effect, that is, if you sent them that, they would assume you had a spouse and two children, and add four people to their rolls. I assume that chicanery goes on throughout the not-for-profit world, as there’s very little active volunteer activity in this country outside churches.

17 thoughts on “In praise of rock throwers

  1. Pew, and its Blue Dog Dem-pets, is used to getting its way. I think of MWA, TU, TWS, and the whole pathetic lot as the Washington Generals of the corporate faux-environmental cabal. Paid to lose, losers.

    And FYI, the “split” can be traced back (at least) to the 1980’s, when I served on MWA’s state BOD, There were four of us that wanted simply to protect all 6.4 million acres of de facto wilderness. Never more than the four supported the motion, which came up at every meeting until we quit and formed new groups.

    It was Williams, Melcher and other Dems who insisted on giving away 99% of the “suitable timber base” to industry in any and all “wilderness” bills, and never designate more than 20% of the 6.4 million acres that qualify for congressional protection.

    The Lame Duck, Rocky Mountain Front Act rider that just passed held pretty much true to that > 20% formula.


      1. Geez, asking for a list of names of “those people” is asking us to dredge up some really bad memories. Suffice it to say that the insurrection against MWA that Steve talks about led many of us to realize that MWA was irreformable, and to move on to better things like AWR and NREPA.

        But if you must have some lists, the googlizer is your friend. Here’s one:


        1. Please, a little kindness … I met some great people who you may not see eye -to-eye with, and I am sorry that you had a blowout. No doubt all sides were great people. I have forgotten most of the names.


  2. Keith Hammer (Swan View Coalition); Paul Richards, Boulder; Larry Campbell (Friends of the Bitterroot) were the other solid MWA BOD members who could not find any reason to throw any IRA (Inventoried Roadless Area) under the bus for Williams, Melcher or Baucus.

    I never knew until recently, however, that before Pew took over, certain Cinnabar Foundation BOD members directed a lot of the policy “traffic” at MWA through purse strings. No $$$$ for dissenters.

    This same (Len and Sandy Sargeant) money seeded GYC, and blackballed groups that sue the USFS to protect fish and wildlife habitat from subsidized clear-cut logging and roadbuilding. Phil and Robin (on Cinnabar BOD today) Tawney, and now Land Tawney have always been heavy hitters for Dems during campaign season. The universe is smaller than most think.

    Sen. Tester carries on the tradition. “Black sheep” are blackballed for life. Baaaaa!


  3. Volunteering is a tremendous resource. Much has been/is done by volunteers; and it possesses a great feedback mechanism.

    But it tends to take place within an ethnic cohort (unless you are of northern European extraction with toxic levels of altruism). One price for a multi-cultural society is this loss of community.

    Seems to me the elephant in the room saving wilderness et al is population growth/population replacement. It was noteworthy to once have a verse about “more people, more scars upon the land.” Now we seem more anxious to paraphrase Ebeneezer Scrooge and reduce the surplus population of the wrong kind of people.


    1. It will be a haven for motorized vehicles. Logging, which never relents, will want in. Wilderness, which is in and of itself a thing of intrinsic value, will disappear, along with the animals that cannot compete with humans.

      Aldo Leopold and Ed Abbey both made strong cases for preservation of land for its own sake. each worth a read.


  4. Kailey,
    You know full well how the North Fork and Rocky Mountain Front bills went down. The people of this country have no idea what just happened to their public land, or why.
    I fail to see how attaching public lands riders to funding bills is democratic, especially when compared to regular order. No hearing, no floor debate, no amendments, no holds, no cloture, nothing but a non-gernane sticky note posing as legislation.

    Scholarship is a gift, why do you abuse it so? Enlighten me.


    1. Just had to tack on an Ad Hominem at the end didn’t you? Did it give you a thrill, perhaps an erection? Please feel free to be more honest in your disrespect for me, Steve. Quite unlike you, I’ve never weakly hidden my disrespect for you.

      You keep caterwauling that the ‘people don’t know!’ Yes, they really really do. They see the effect. They know full well what areas they are allowed in, which they aren’t, and which they willfully choose to break the law to invade. Oh yes, the people do know, and that’s why they continuously and with increasing frequency elect people opposed to your idea of the people’s will. I made the scholarly mistake of suggesting that continuing arrogant attempts to defend wolves would lead to chicanery in the Congress because ‘the people’ didn’t like or agree with those efforts. For that, I was castigated for not knowing how reality works, or supporting the bad guys, or being a false scholar then. Really? Who was right in the end, Steve, you or me? So I have to ask, Steve, what kind of a scholar are you when you obviously don’t know the first thing about the people you share this democracy with?

      Are riders Democratic? Yes, in this country they are because they have been determined to be Constitutional. I think it’s somewhat idiotic of you to attempt to play me by misrepresenting a question that has an obvious answer. You weren’t asking if they were democratic; you were asking if they were moral. You tell me, hot-shot. But do keep in mind that while you, Tokarski and so many others were convinced that Tester would not have the support of the people having betrayed us so, he did. You were wrong again, and I was right. If ‘scholarship’ were as important to you such that you felt it necessary to use as a weapon, you would admit my superiority. You never will, and I am enough of a scholar to know why you won’t and why you shouldn’t.


      1. Rob, you can say that this outcome is beneficial, and I would only argue that it is not and we could agree to disagree. But to say that it in any way represents a democratic outcome is an affront to intelligent people. Our system does not work like that. Public opinion is managed, never heeded in our fake and morbidly corrupt oligarchy.


      2. FWIW: In the 2012 Election, 51.3% of Montana voters cast a vote for someone other than Jon Tester in the Senate race.

        If Land Tawney – who sat on Tester’s “Sportsmen’s Advisory Caucus” and who was president of the anonymous-dark money group “Montana Hunters and Anglers” – hadn’t gotten over $1 million in anonymous, dark money to run TV Ads supporting libertarian candidate Dan Cox in the final week’s of the campaign, Tester would’ve lost to Rehberg. What sort of people actually use anonymous, dark money to run TV commercials in support of candidates they don’t even support, all in an effort to trick voters? See:


  5. Sharing at the request of Larry Campbell, former MWA council member.

    Maybe somebody can get this to Mark Tokarski.

    Attached is a sign-on letter I organized for former MWA officers and board members opposing the participation and endorsement of MT Senator Tester’s legislated logging bill by “collabo-traiter” MWA. To the best of my knowledge that bill (which has not passed) initiated the step onto the slippery slope of legislated logging and stands as a good example of bad wilderness designations based on recreation not conservation biology.

    Several former officers and B.o.D. (Council) folks signed the same letter to MWA but did not want to sign the public LTE, shown here. This was signed by people who were elected by the membership at large. These days John Gatchel and his ilk have a stranglehold and elections are soviet style appointments by the controlers who have marginalized their own membership.

    • Larry Campbell, former MWA council member

    Tester’s forest bill would damage wildlands
    Monday, February 22, 2010

    We, the undersigned former Council members and officers of the Montana Wilderness Association, respectfully urge Sen. Jon Tester to modify the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2009 to rectify the problems outlined by the Undersecretary of Agriculture as well as the Last Best Chance Wildlands Campaign.

    We cannot support the legislation as now written. We diverge from MWA here because we believe that the bill degrades both the quantity and quality of some of America’s most cherished wildlands in Montana. We encourage consideration of the issues we have outlined below that would be necessary in order for us to support it.

    We endorse the 10-point position paper, “Keeping It Wild! In Defense of America’s Public Wildlands,” which has been submitted by the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign. (See:

    The bill legislates the net loss of hundreds of thousands of roadless area acres, including S-393 Wilderness Study Areas designated in 1977 by the late Sen. Lee Metcalf. This will create widespread environmental damage and the loss of an irreplaceable legacy for which future generations will, quite correctly, hold ours accountable.

    Also, the bill’s congressional mandate for timber cut levels sets a dangerous precedent. Resulting below-cost timber sales will cost taxpayers over $100 million. And proposed new wilderness areas are small, often disjointed, primarily “rock and ice” parcels that would fail to protect fragile wildland and wildlife ecosystems and corridors.

    To make matters worse, the bill includes special provisions for new “wilderness” units that defy both the intent and letter of the Wilderness Act, and the spirit of wilderness that so many Americans believe is a vital and wondrous part of this great nation’s heritage. Motor vehicles, including helicopters, simply have no place in designated wilderness. Yes, we need more wilderness – lots of it – but we want it to be real wilderness!

    The bill also codifies secretive negotiated agreements – such as the Beaverhead-Deerlodge – that excluded many individuals and groups who’ve long been involved in the public process. This, and similar agreements, have been sealed by MWA and others over the objections of excluded organizations and individuals, of whom most live and work close to the land and know the compromised areas intimately.

    It is with a heavy heart that we are compelled to oppose the organization that we once served as Council members and officers. Most of Montana’s undeveloped wilds are long gone, and we cannot afford to lose big chunks of what remains. We believe that in recent years, the Montana Wilderness Association has clearly compromised its long-held wildland protection mission and vigilant advocacy. We know many current and former MWA members who agree. In fact, many conservationists in the region are convinced that, quite simply, MWA has lost its way. We are among those people.

    In summary, this bill will irreparably damage Montana’s dwindling public wildland legacy. It will salt the gaping social wounds created by MWA’s recent actions. It degrades the Wilderness Act of 1964 with provisions that damage both Wilderness and the Wilderness Idea. And it’s a bad deal for future generations of Montanans who will need wild country more than ever in an increasingly crowded and uncertain future.

    This opinion piece was signed by Montana Wilderness Association past presidents Elaine Snyder of Kalispell, Lou Bruno of East Glacier and Joan Montagne of Bozeman; past vice presidents Dan Heinz of Reno, Nev. and Loren Kreck of Columbia Falls; MWA Wilderness Committee past chairman Paul Edwards of Helena; Larry Campbell of Darby, Susan Colvin of Great Falls, Randall Gloege of Billings, Keith Hammer of Kalispell, Steve Kelly of Bozeman, Lance Olsen of Missoula, Bob Oset of Hamilton, Paul Richards of Boulder, Ross Titus of Big Fork, George Wuerthner of Helena/Livingston, and Janet Zimmerman of Pony.


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