Endless pressure, endlessly applied.

Backyard, Bozeman, Montana. Dreaming of summer.

Wildness, wilderness and roadless areas are all words that we use to describe lands that remain as nature intended, untrammeled by man’s unquenchable thirst for comfort, convenience and attachment to shiny objects. Fragments of Montana, Idaho, Alaska and smaller parcels scattered about the Lower 48 are all that remain of the once vast wild landscape that existed before Europeans occupied (colonized) and exploited anything and everything that could be converted into gold, silver of fiat money. It was all wilderness once. Lately I’ve been reflecting on experiences and events that have influenced my life in the Northern Rockies. Yes, I’m a transplant, originally from “The East.” College in Denver, and then migrating to Missoula, Montana in the winter of 1974-75. I wrote the following piece for a group I helped to found in 1987 in Swan Lake, Montana, The Friends of the Wild Swan. wildswan.org

After 35 years of grassroots wilderness and forest-ecosystem activism, it’s worth reflecting on one of Friends of the Wild Swan’s most important accomplishments:  wildlands protection.  In 1987, the social, cultural and political climate surrounding the wilderness/roadless-areas debate was highly contentious, to put it mildly.  All across western Montana, and in the Swan Valley in particular, public outrage and resentment was growing rapidly against the rapid expansion of clearcut logging on Plum Creek’s (“checkerboard”) corporate holdings, and indiscriminate clearcutting on publicly-owned forest land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

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Crazy court ruling threatens all public lands

[East side, Crazy Mountains of Montana]

Change is coming to what I think is Montana’s most alluring “island” mountain range, the Crazy Mountains.  It’s about to become the latest in a long, tortured history of celebrity destinations dotting the American West.  As the success of Big Sky ski resort, the Yellowstone Club, and Moonlight Basin (northwest of Yellowstone National Park) have demonstrated, there is plenty more opportunity here in Southwest Montana if you’ve got deep pockets and high-level political connections in Washington, D.C.

Hikers and hunters have been battling the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to maintain access to public lands for decades.  Local ranchers have been illegally posting “no trespassing” signs to keep hunters and hikers out of their backyard, and off their private land.  But the ownership pattern is complicated in a “checkerboard” of private and public sections (640 acres, or 1 square mile, per section) that originated when the railroad was given title to every other section.  Under the Union Pacific Act of 1862, Congress granted every other section along the railroad – in one square mile blocks — to Union Pacific and retained the alternate sections as federal government lands.

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