Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Passing of a Montana Conservation & Public Access Warrior

The Passing of a Montana Conservation & Public Access Warrior

Tony Schoonen - shown above with his beloved "River Rat" cap. Photo courtesy of Roy Morris.

Tony Schoonen, an Army veteran and 30 year educator & principal, who currently resided in Butte, Montana, was a passionate conservation and public access advocate. His passing away last night is a tremendous loss to Montana.

Tony was a good friend of mine, a kindred rabble rouser. As I researched access years ago, I kept seeing Tony's name and contacted him. He taught me a great deal about Montana's public access and how they waged war on privatization. Much of the public land and water access that we enjoy today, Tony was right there, fighting for it: from OpEds in the papers, river protests on the Ruby River, legislative sessions, State Land Board meetings and FWP Commission meetings - rallying the Butte contingent for battle.

Tony was a member and past president of one of Montana's premier hunting & angling organizations, the Skyline Sportsmen Association and local leader of the George Grant Chapter of Montana Trout Unlimited. He had also been President of the Montana Wildlife Federation.

On March 31, 1980, Jack Atcheson Sr., Tony Schoonen, and Jack Jones formed and filed the Montana Coalition for Access on State Public Lands, Inc., funding their work out of their own pockets. The name would later be changed to Montana Coalition For Appropriate Management of State Lands, Inc. This Coalition led the charge for our state lands public access.

Inspired by the State Lands Coalition, another coalition was formed, on April 14, 1980 – the Montana Coalition for Stream Access, Inc., which Tony was a member of. It was decided to first pursue Stream Access, which then became law in 1985.

In 1985, the Public Land Access Association (PLAAI) was created to carry the banner, later embracing stream access, becoming Public Land/Water Access Association (PLWA). Tony became a PLWA Board of Director in 1997, elected as Treasurer, a position he held through 2007. He remained on the Board, in 2008 until his recent passing.

In 2016, Tony was inducted into the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame.
Recently, Schoonen became active in the battle for our public access in the Crazy Mountains, becoming a part of our Coalition lawsuit.

While this is not a complete list of all the many conservation organizations Tony was involved in or the positions he held, nor exhaustive of the many awards or acknowledgements he received, it is representative of his passionate energy and leadership. His booming activist voice, outspoken opinions and rabble-rousing will be sorely missed.

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Thank you,
Kathryn QannaYahu
Helena, MT