Enhancing Montana’s Wildlife and Habitat
By Gayle Joslin
September 27, 2014
It has been quite some time since I’ve spoken in public, and when I retired 7 years ago from a 32 year career with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks as a wildlife biologist, I must say I was relieved to think my public speaking days were over. But when Kathryn asked me to visit with you for a few minutes about Wilderness, I thought, “this is a subject so near and dear to my heart that I’ll have to saddle up.”
Right out of the chute, America was embracing its Manifest Destiny philosophy with rapacious vigor. A young French journalist, Alexis de Tocqueville, was scrutinizing the behavior of our fledgling country and observed:
“In Europe people talk a great deal of the wilds of America, but the Americans themselves never think about them; they are insensible to the wonders of inanimate nature. Their eyes are fired with another sight; they march across these wilds, clearing swamps, turning the courses of rivers…”1
But, evolution of the thought process that eventually led to legislated Wilderness was getting started in the 1700’s with the Concord transcendentalist philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson who published the seminal book Nature. That work profoundly influenced Henry David Thoreau who wrote many books, spoke widely and professed “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.” This cadre of thinkers prepared the country for an era of conservation.
WILDERNESS was a concept devised in America by people who had seen what greed and destruction will do. Each generation built upon the thoughts and writings of the previous generation.
Individual experience and observation of history lead George Perkins Marsh to write Man and Nature in 1864 (exactly 100 years before the passage of the Wilderness Act). Marsh had been the U.S. Minister to Turkey in the 1800s and had had time to travel in Greece, Palestine and the Nile Valley where entire landscapes had been altered by man. He was able to see that man’s actions could devastate and permanently alter landscapes. When he was a child, his family’s mill was washed away when the mountain behind it was stripped of timber and could not withstand drenching rains and then horrific erosion that gouged gullies and carried away top soil, their mill, and their livelihood.
When in the Middle East, he could see that those landscapes didn’t occur naturally, they were a product of abuse, exploitation, and arrogance. He set the stage with his writings for those who would follow to understand that all things are connected (the concepts of what we now call Ecology) and that humanity itself would determine whether their local environments, the landscapes, ultimately whether our little blue planet would continue to be able to sustain us if we did not heed the rules of nature.
Scoffing at such altruistic, sentimental notions were the likes of our very own William A. Clark, robber baron extraordinaire, the embodiment of greed and exploitation of land and people for his personal gain. In their wake, people of his ilk left gaping holes such as the Berkley Pit that will forever appear, even from space as an infected, toxic orb threatening to spill out across the landscape.
In a 1907 essay Mark Twain portrayed Clark this way:
“He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced.”
Satisfied not with their own personal wealth, the robber barons of today have managed to hood-wink our Supreme Court into providing their corporations, “personhood” through the Citizens United decision. So the ante of the battle, even today, goes up another notch. But that’s a different path that we are not going to take today.
Wilderness was able to be created from the raw unclaimed landscape of a new republic. Before the idea of “PUBLIC” land, the government was selling off land to pay for the Revolutionary War. Then it gave Land Grants to the Railroads, and then Settlement grants. But the idea of public land was recognized in 1891 with creation of the Forest Reserve Act and designation of 43 million acres by Presidents Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley (Benjamin Harrison 13 million acres, Grover Cleveland 25 million acres, McKinley 7 million).
But, it was Republican president Theodore Roosevelt, who, with the support of his dedicated staff and close compatriot Gifford Pinchot (soon to became known as the father of the United States Forest Service), really set the stage. Roosevelt had been creating national forest reserves on public lands, much to the chagrin of his party and the corporate interests that funded their campaigns. So in 1907 in an effort to reign in his enthusiasm, Congress put a rider on an agricultural bill to prohibit the President from creating any new nationals forest reserves in 6 western states, one of which was Montana (also Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho)
The President could not veto the bill because of important funding provisions that were included. He had 7 days to sign the bill. In those 7 days Roosevelt created 22 new forest reserves covering 16 million acres in those states, and then signed the bill that would prevent him, and future presidents, from ever doing that again. Because they were compiled during long nights of pouring over maps during those 7 days, these lands became known as The Midnight Forests. Ultimately Roosevelt set aside 230 million acres for conservation purposes – more than 5 times the collective acreage of all presidents before him. And he created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905.
Just 4 years earlier, Bob Marshal, was born in New York in 1901 to wealthy, civic minded, Jewish parents who seemed to have nurtured Bob’s proclivity to stride unhindered through the Adirondack Mountains. “He was however, well-educated, gentle, funny, enormously energetic and extraordinarily effective. He was a young man with seemingly boundless energy who became a forester with the U.S. Forest Service.
Marshall tirelessly advocated for a special category of public land designation that would retain certain landscapes as “Forever Wild.” His hiking sagas are legendary. He would walk 30-40 miles in a day across wild, trail-less country. He generated a staunch following that, after his death at the age of 38 on a train returning to New York, pursued his ideals for another 25 years before passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.
The text of the Wilderness Act itself is poetic and in part says:
"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
With passage, across the United States, 756 wilderness areas involving 107,436,608 acres were eventually bequeathed Wilderness Status. Here in Montana, Bob Marshall’s wilderness namesake had been established by Federal Regulation in 1940 in honor of Marshall with the recognition that “by saving wilderness, we also save a vital part of the human spirit.”
With the 1964 Act, 16 wilderness areas would eventually be designated in Montana but only 4 new areas would come into existence with the signing of the Act, as well as the Bob Marshall Wilderness being officially recognized. (Absaroka-Beartooth 1964, Anaconda-Pintlar 1964, Bob Marshall 1940 and 1964, Cabinet Mountains 1964, Gates of the Mountains 1964, Great Bear 1978, Lee Metcalf 1983, Medicine Lakes 1976, Mission Mountains 1975, Mission Mountains Tribal 1982, Rattlesnake 1980, Red Rock Lakes 1976, Scapegoat 1972, Selway Bitteroot 1964, UL Bend 1976, Welcome Creek 1978)
Montana would become famous in the struggle for Wilderness when in the late 1960s the mercantile owner in Lincoln named Cecil Garland and an outfitter from Ovando, Tom Edwards, took it upon themselves to champion the first citizen’s initiative for Wilderness for the Lincoln backcountry, as it was called then. Ultimately the Scapegoat Wilderness, was designated in 1972, but it came so close to not happening at all. The bulldozers had already been unloaded and were said to be idling at the edge of the “Backcountry” about to begin the building of roads necessary to harvest all the timber units that had been laid out by the Helena National Forest.
Small, wiry, and colorful, Tom Edwards had made his living in the backcountry taking people in to enjoy the scenery in the summer and pursue the wily wapiti in the fall. Cecil Garland simply would escape to the “backcountry” for recreation and solace. Although a simple small town merchant, Cecil was thoughtful, passionate, and eloquent about the land out his back door. At his store, Cecil had heard about the unloading of bull dozers and followed up with calls to the Forest Service. Receiving unsatisfying answers, he telephoned his Senator in Washington D.C., Republican Jim Baton. Baton phoned the Helena Supervisor and said for him to give him 24 hours to investigate the situation. Upon being told by the Supervisor that he did not have 24 hours, Baton slammed his hand down on the desk and thundered, “BY GOD I”D BETTER HAVE 24 HOURS!” For the time being the project was put on hold. Tom and Cecil teamed up and traveled to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress.
At this time I was in high school, but my summer job was as a camp cook on backcountry trips through The Bob and the Lincoln Backcountry, working for Tom and Helen Edwards. Tom and Helen were close family friends of my parents, and my dad did a lot of volunteer guiding for Tom during the hunting season. Tom had been his high school physics and art teacher. So when dad took me with him on one of those trips, so that I might prove myself capable enough to be considered as a camp cook. It changed my life. And I got a job!
When in Washington D.C., Cecil and Tom swept away their audience of politicians with vivid descriptions of magical places nestled in the mountains of Montana. Tom explained in his high, thin voice,
“For over a quarter of a century I have virtually lived in these areas, especially the Lincoln-Scapegoat back country, from Decoration Day to Thanksgiving. I have been privileged to take guests from all over the United States and some from foreign lands into every crook and cranny of this marvelous wilderness. I love the high country and alpine meadows with a passion – it restores my soul and into this land of spiritual strength I have been privileged to guide over the years literally thousands of people, the old, many past 70, the young, the poor, the rich, the great, and small people like myself. I have harvested a resource of the forest of most importance. No one word will suffice, but to explain this resource, let us call it – the ‘hush’ of the land.”
Then Cecil painted a place akin to heaven and said, in part:
“We camped that first night on a small bench above Ringeye Falls. Taking down our tent from an old frame that the pack rats were using for a home, we made a secure camp, cooked our supper, fed our sock, and then turned our complete thoughts to our whereabouts.
“We took from our duffle an old reed elk bugle and as the chill air fell with the sun we shattered the calm of that September evening with a blast from our elk call. Then almost as by magic, above us on Red Mountain a bull elk bugled his challenge that this was his home. All through the frosty fall air the calls echoed back and forth and I knew that I had found wilderness.
“I would not sleep that night for I was trying to convince myself that this was really so; that there was wild country like this left and that somehow I had found it. But all was not at peace in my heart for I knew that someday, for some unknown reason, man would try to destroy this country, as man had altered and destroyed before.
“That night I made a vow, that whatever the cost for whatever the reason, I would do all that I could to keep this country as wild as I had found it.
Four years later, in 1972 Congress finally passed into legislation the first citizen initiated wilderness in the United States, the Scapegoat Wilderness. While several other Wilderness Areas came along shortly thereafter, Montana has not seen any additional Wilderness designated for the past 31 years and counting. Congress did pass the 1988 Montana Wilderness Bill only to have President Regan kill it with a pocket veto…..
Leaving citizens today holding the line for Wilderness Study Areas, Inventoried, and non-inventoried Roadless Areas, and working to restore tattered wildlife linkage corridors, big game security, cutthroat and bull trout habitats.
I am a member of the Helena Hunters & Anglers Association and we are deeply invested in actions of the Helena National Forest. We recently explained to them that:
“Few things matter to us more than the conscientious stewardship of our public land natural resources – here at the doorstep of our home along the flanks of the Continental Divide. Few agencies have more history or meaning to us than the U.S. Forest Service with its colorful and courageous genesis out of the corporate exploitive era of the late 1890s and early 1900s. The Helena National Forest was in fact, one of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Midnight Forests” – public lands that he and his staff valiantly worked to define as National Forests, and to preserve wild places “for those yet unborn in the womb of time.” WE are those unborn souls he was referring to, and we do not believe we have the right to drop the ball or retreat from the responsibility to be involved in the future of our public lands.”
We are doing our best to live up to our pledge because it’s been said that “The only thing for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” … and I would add, a few good women.
There is something sacred … beyond words, about wild places, something that rests in the heart of one’s soul, and to which we must return.
So, when my mom and dad both passed away last year, there was no doubt that their remains would be returned to the country they loved. As it turns out, my grandfather homesteaded along the Rocky Mountain Front up the Dearborn River in a tributary that came to be known as Joslin Creek. So dad was returned to the Grassy Hills in what is now the Scapegoat Wilderness, where he got his first elk. And mom was returned to the Boundary Waters Canoe area of Minnesota where she was born.
But, there is also a part of them that is resting near my home in the forest of those tattered lands within the Helena National Forest – reminding me that my work is not yet done.
1 Peter Wild. Pioneer Conservationists of the Eastern United States.