Thursday, December 21, 2017

Monumental Monuments


                               Monument Designation of the Badger-Two Medicine Country
                                     Monument Designation of the Badger- Two Medicine


     I think back to days gone by, specifically those early, formative years guiding raft and fishing trips on the Snake River through Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  What great country that is, and was, for me.  Needing to know a bit of the area's history I learned that Grand Teton National Park had been initially, almost a half century before I arrived on the scene, a National Monument, declared so by the president in 1929 by way of the Antiquities Act of 1906.  That act allowed the president to set aside "land to be protected as important historic, cultural, and ecological sites without the approval of congress."  There's some fine print added to the original Antiquities Act and some of that has been the subject of modern day interpretation and discussion.  Nevertheless, to this day, the president of the United States is allowed to set aside land or water that he deems is needing of protection.  In recent history, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all added numerous monument status to lands and water that were deemed in need of increased protection as National Monuments.  Specifically, in 2016, during his last year in the White House, Barack Obama set aside the Bears Ears country in Utah, more than 1.3 million acres of land as a national monument.  Then the fun started.

   During President Trumps first year in office he directed the Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review some of the existing monuments with an eye toward reducing the sizes of many of which he felt were not being used in a manner consistent with the original intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906.  The 1.3 million acre Bear Ears National Monument along with the 1.6 million acre Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument have taken center stage following the review and may very well be in the process for severe reduction in size in the year ahead.  The Bears Ears is projected to go from the 1.3 million acres down to 120,000.  That's quite a change!  A drastic reduction in acreage is also planned for the Grand Staircase- Escalante as well.  Needless to say, in many quarters, and most certainly among every environmental organization known to man, there has been a loud outcry of opposition to the administrations actions.  "America's conservation legacy defines us and is the envy of the world.  Today is a dark day for that legacy.  "Teddy Roosevelt is shaking his fists.  Undermining one of our bedrock conservation laws and selling out to industry flies in the face of T.R., who president Trump said he wanted to emulate."  Oh boy!

     And here's where it gets interesting.  Ironically, or coincidentally, I'm not sure which, while at the same time taking aim at the two monuments in question, Secretary Zinke proposes that the Badger Two Medicine country of northern Montana become a National Monument, to the tune of 130,000 acres of country that begins six miles from where I'm writing this blog as we speak!  Bear Creek Ranch lies just six miles to the west of the northeast border of the, at this time, informally proposed Badger- Two Medicine National Monument.  More than a few of you reading this blog, many of you guests of ours, or close friends at Bear Creek Ranch over the years, have ridden on more than one occasion into the heart of the Badger- Two Medicine, with us.  You know the country of the Badger- Two Med as well as many others.  You've been there.  You also know it's some pretty special country, raw, rugged, spectacular, and drop dead beautiful.  And you never saw another soul on a ride you did with us.  That country is still quiet, very lightly visited, and even more importantly, well taken care of by those of us that do visit.  And that's the beginning of the rub, the conflict, the internal turmoil that lies right below the surface of potential monument designation.  At first blush, "protecting" the Badger- Two Medicine Country seems like a no- brainer.  After all, this nation's conservation legacy lays in no small part on the efficacy of the original Antiquities Act and the intent of that act is to protect our public lands.  I get that.  BUT.  Does the Badger-Two Medicine country need the additional level of protection that National Monument status would provide it, if any?

    What is so important to recognize at this point in time is that the Badger-Two Medicine country is protected at many levels because it is in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.  The Badger Two Med has been given increased protection over the years from oil and gas exploration and the use of motorized vehicles.  Both of those added levels of regulation were won after lengthy battles on the public and legal stage.  The Badger Two-Med country works very well under the "multiple use" directive of the Forest Service.  Folks hike, fish, hunt, and ride freely, without federal restriction.  There is also a limited amount of livestock grazing also permitted.  In my opinion, and I have been a long time and ardent user of the country in question, the existing levels of protection in the area work real well for about everyone.  The glaring exception to that last statement is the role the Blackfeet Tribe plays in the present and future of the area.  I'll add to that thought in the following paragraphs.

    At this point I'll cut right to the heart of the matter.  The Badger-Two Medicine is everything it is, beautiful, majestic, raw, and rugged because it is not a monument.  It has not nor should be added to National Monument status because it will have a bulls eye painted on it both in this country and around the world.  A bulls eye of visitation that it doesn't need.  The Badger-Two Med is what it is because it has been left alone, unlike our National Parks and Monuments, and monument status will change that irreversibly.  If the Blackfeet Tribe desires more use or management authority in the country then I say bring it to the table. 

     Pushing back on National Monument creation anywhere is hard for me to do.  My natural instinct is go all in on monuments and provide the kind of protection all our remaining wild places need and deserve.  But I am also seeing a change in the character of many of our wild lands as they continue to get more and more visitation and use.  This past summer the visitation in Glacier National Park went well beyond the 3 million mark, almost double the use I normally noted not many years ago.  Trails are crowded as are park facilities.  And the irony to those thoughts is that Glacier National Park is fully visible and directly across Highway 2 from the north boundary of the Badger Two-Medicine.  We look north into the park as we ride just to the south of it and we rarely see a soul on our side of the tracks.  And those souls rarely see us! 

    I cringe at the thought of National Monument protection in the Badger-Two Med.  That country is  good just the way it is today.  I don't want that to change nor do I suspect that current users of the area would embrace that change either.  What I fear is that the enticement of the false narrative of added protection in Monument status will blind many folks to the reality that  National Monuments bring, and that is potentially immense additional visitation and use. 

    As I've heard on many occasions in my life when looking at a difficult decision that doesn't need to be made, the wise man sayeth;  "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  The Badger-Two Medicine Country ain't broke.  It is good the way it is.  It doesn't need fixing, certainly not to the extent that Monument status would bring.

    There's a whole lot of stuff in this world I know very little about.  But I do know a whole lot about the Badger-Two Medicine Country.  I know that monument designation of that country will change it forever, and not for the better.  Bill Beck, Winter 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

An Acronym? Managing Grizzlies.

                                                                Managing Grizzlies

The very contentious issue of debate regarding the "listing" of the grizzly bear is again coming into focus in the American West.  On Wednesday, November 29th, in Missoula, many of this regions grizzly bear bureaucrats will be gathering, once again, to discuss the status of ursus horribilis, most specifically, in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (or NCDE).  The biggest piece of that day long discussion will be to debate the merits of delisting the grizzly in Northern Montana and if in fact that is going to occur how will the grizzly be managed moving forward.

They'll all be there.  You know who I'm talking about!  From Wilderness Watch to the Sahara Club, and all of 'em in between, every environ- meddling outfit within five hundred miles. They'll all be there in force, in all their glory, sanctifying the the status of the grizzly, and theirs as well.  And of course, grizzly bear managers from the Fed, the state and the tribes will be driving the agenda for the day.  I'm looking forward to attending, as a member of the general public and I do hope the public makes it's presence felt. I can already feel the hair on the back of my neck getting stiff! 

I've lived in grizzly bear country for quite some time, going back to the the early 80's and on up through the present.  I am writing this piece, having just come back from feeding in our barn, not expecting to see a bear there but keeping my eyes open regardless.  I think it's a bit late in November to find a hungry grizzly poking around near our feed bins but who knows, it's only been a couple weeks since the last grizzly's presence exited the property.  I've been run out of there on more than one occasion over the years.  There's a foot and a half of snow out there and a whole lot more in the high country so chances are any bear in the area is denned up.

Most of my life over the past forty years has been spent at our ranch, directly adjacent to the southern edge of Glacier National Park, just to the north of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, and just west of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.  There's lots of bears in the area, to say the least.  Always has been.  Yes, we've noted some fluctuation in population over the years.  The decade of the 90's was really something, grizzlies everywhere.  One summer we had three different sows with twin cubs on and off the property.  We lost a colt to a sow with a cub one Spring night and the following evening had eight different grizzlies doing a dance around the culvert trap, set up to capture the sow that had killed the colt.  A buddy of mine and myself counted 55 grizzlies between May and June 1st within ten miles of the ranch one year.  It seemed like there were bears everywhere.  These past ten years we appear to have lost the big, dense population of bears that we once had but I don't think they'v gone too far!  The population of those bears appears to have moved, or migrated if you will, in an easterly direction, over to the prairie country and the Rocky Mountain Front, back to their historic habitat, before the advent of the white man. We saw eight of the big bears there this past summer over the course of two days within a few miles of each other.  And I doubt if we saw them all.  There was bear sign everywhere.

I'm wondering if there will be some sharp folks attending the upcoming meeting in Missoula?  Will there be some real outdoor brain power present at that gathering of bear professionals?  Will they all have their laptops at their disposal, ready to augment their argument with satellite imagery data uploaded from a solar powered live feed 200 miles distant on Grant Ridge?  How many of them will have spent years in the out of doors, in bear country, among bears, accumulating the experience, the knowledge, and the wisdom to know that the whole deal, the whole debate, the grist of the entire issue, is not as complex or as difficult to solve as they would have you believe?  There will be several hundred attendees in Missoula on the 29th and several hundred opinions on how to proceed with the debate, "to list or not to list."

There's always going to be bears in this country, in the NCDE.  It's just a matter of how many we can live with, or perhaps how many can live with us.  Of little doubt to me however, is that the number we finally settle on has got to be finite.  In other words, there can't be an unlimited degree of population growth among the big bears.  There has been growth for decades and the results of that have been an increasing amount of man/bear conflict and a feeling among many folks that the biological and social carrying capacity of the NCDE has been reached.  And yes, I do recognize that thought is not likely to be received well among the crowd I expect to be attending!

If I were in a position to make an executive decision regarding the future management of the grizzly bear here's what would happen;  The grizzly bear would once again become the domain of the state of Montana;. the presence of the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service would be relegated back to the east side of the Mississippi River, never to be present in this state again, ever;  the population of the grizzly would be capped at its' present number;  legal hunting of the grizzly would be initiated and become a viable management tool in man/bear conflict;  For starters, 50 grizzlies, two third males, and one third females, would be legally harvested each year:  in the NCDE grizzlies will not be present east of Highway 89 from the Canadian border south to Interstate 90.

I've had a richer life having lived with grizzlies and in grizzly country for as long as I have.  I also understand that the grizzly is an animal that needs lots of room to live, a whole lot more than you and I need.  I'd rather see the grizzly in his world than ours.  We don't do well together and one of us always loses when there's conflict.  The bear dies or we get hurt and die as well.  Neither of us wins.  Leave the bear alone in northwest Montana, west of Highway 89.  We'll all be happy.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

That griz and me

                                                   That Bear and Me    

I've always loved those later fall days at the ranch.  The days are getting shorter, and I know what's to come.  There will be snow, lots of it, cold temperatures, and by December, most likely temps well below zero.  It wasn't but just a few years ago, I think in December of 2013, and maybe that was December 7th, the thermometer outside our kitchen window showed -41below.  Well, that was then, and on this early October Saturday afternoon, it is plumb flat gorgeous.  It must be in the low 70's, the sun is out, and even though the sun is considerably lower in the sky than it is in July, that round ball of yellow fire is still warming our part of the country.  I feel good and it's time to do some work. In this case, begin to winterize the cabins, turn the water off to them, the barn, the automatic waterers, and then pump the water out of each one individually.  I start the process at the cabin closest to the barn, the Lewis and Clark cottage, probably twenty five to thirty yards from the barn.  And at this point in time I'm not thinking about bears, in case you're wondering.  We haven't seen a bear on the property the entire year.  It ain't like the old days back in the eighties and nineties, bears, grizzlies everywhere, I kid you not. 

                                          Sow griz with three cubs (two out of sight)

So there I am, moving in and out of the Lewis and Clark cabin, turning valves off, pumping air into the system, blowing water out, stepping back out to get tools.  And then halfway through that process, I happen to look inside the entrance to the barn and there's our large grain bin, laying on its side, hard against the rear gate directly adjacent to the corral.  It isn't supposed to be there.  I know right away it's a bear, been there many times.  I wander back to the barn entrance and swing the gate open.  There's a bit more mess close by.  The 55 gallon steel garbage can has been turned over, there's paper garbage and empty grain bags on the dirt floor but not much more of a mess.  No worries mate.  Hell, I wasn't even thinking worry, much less thinking bear.  I've seen nothing to sound off any alarm bells and my God, it's the middle of a very sunny day.  I move through the barn, picking up what's been scattered. 

About halfway into the large barn, there's a corner past the tack room and a large open space off to the right.  I reach that corner and naturally, look to the right, and there he is, looking at me.  Holy shit, we're about twenty feet apart. It's a grizzly, and he's half standing, hard up against the wall, and undoubtedly, waiting and wondering what in the hell he's got coming at him.  I see him and he's seeing me.  I make the bear, he's making me, and I swear it may have only been two seconds, and although I'd like to tell you that a whole lot went through my mind real quickly, that wasn't the case.  I do remember recognizing it was a grizzly, immediately, and I do recall seeing long, white claws on what must have been a front foot raised above his body and I believe up against the wall.  Beyond those thoughts however, there weren't any.  And after what must have been just two seconds, perhaps three, but it wasn't any more than that, that son of a bitch made a move, a lunge toward me, hard and fast.

I didn't think, didn't have enough time to think, but perhaps whatever thought process I did have at exactly that moment of truth, passed that message to my body and I moved, and I mean with lightning speed.  I spun on my left leg and ran, sprinted, harder than I have since my college days, towards light, the barn gate, and out.  Believe it or not, and I can actually remember the fleeting thought I had during that flight.  "Man, I feel good, I feel fast, I feel light on my feet."  I had more than a little fear and adrenaline running through my veins and that must have helped.  No pulled hamstrings, no bad knee, and no physical handicap holding me up.  I made it out of the barn.

Daylight, temporary freedom.  My sprint gets me fifteen, twenty yards beyond the barn gate and I am beginning to use some cognition (a fancy word for thought, my counseling education education!).  I've got to look around and see where that bear is 'cause if he's on my ass I'm gonna' have to change my plan.  I haven't thought beyond that but I do slow down and crane my neck around and look back. He's not on my butt, thank God, and so I look harder in the direction of the back barn gate and the corral, and there he is.  He's hit a lope as well, a grand four hundred pound grayish colored griz, probably a male, and he's hauling the mail, wanting no part of me, and I, no part of him.

Remember, I opened this writing feeling pretty good about the day, the time of year, and the beauty of this particularly fine fall day.  Well, I'm here to tell you that I'm feeling even better, as I continue on up toward the lodge, safety, and my beautiful wife.  Life feels real good at the moment.  Hell, I just dodged another bullet.  Oh yeah, I have more than a good idea how that afternoon event could have ended.  That image I have of those long, white claws, classic grizzly features, are still with me.  I know that had that bear been a sow with cubs, or perhaps a grizzly with less shy behavior, or simply a bear that had been even more suddenly confronted, I might have felt those long claws across my back.  I don't think much beyond that scenario.  Ain't worth it.  And besides, I did dodge another bullet.  That's three of them this season. Been cow kicked in the head by a good horse, knocked me down, a first after having shod a couple thousand head of horses in my life.  Got bucked off hard, my head finding the only large rock in an area of soft grass and dirt, and then of course, the bear.  And I'm still hear to tell you about it.  

Vaya con Dios! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

"It's been quite the party."

Wow, in my last writing I wrote about the young lady I had developed a professional relationship with in a therapeutic setting.  I still think about her from time to time and hope she is overcoming some of the social barriers that have inhibited her from being all she wants to be.  Just recently, I've received news of good friends, some temporarily sick, a few terminally ill.  That ain't good.  I mean, these are folks that I've known a long time, through the good times and the not good times.  Good friends stand the test of time, they don't come and go, even when the chips are down.  I talked to a good ole cowboy bud of mine just a while ago.  Me and Harry don't see each other much, maybe once or twice a year.  But when we do, it's a good thing.  I think my world wouldn't be as full if Harry weren't around.  And for the record, he will be.  His go round in the hospital is about over and in any case, he's a stubborn son of a bitch and on the mend.  But I must be thinking about mortality a bit more than normal cause here I am writing about it.

So here I go again, writing about relationships, ones I've known, ones I've lost, and maybe those that are yet to come.  I just got off the message system with an old high school mate, hadn't communicated with him for more than forty some years.  I remember Doug pretty well.  We played football together and I recall him being pretty damned smart.  I think he went to one of them Ivy League colleges and became a physicist.  He  was asking for my comments on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge comedy and we exchanged a few thoughts on the matter.  I gave him my take on the deal and he referred me to a couple pieces that he thought were worth reading.  Now, here I am corresponding with one intelligent fellow and he's asking me stuff?  I told him he'd always had me "out brained" by a large margin.  And you know what?  He told me he'd always enjoyed my writing, my style, and my normally thoughtful prose.  Holy shit!  I kid you not, I was speechless, and flattered.  And most of all, he made my day.  And so, here I am, inspired, writing, on a Saturday afternoon. I think, which is what I'm getting at here is, is that it doesn't take a whole lot to get us going.  We need just a little help, just a little nudge, just a little encouragement, just a little kindness directed our way, to make our day.   I doubt if I'm speaking solely for myself.  We're all pretty similar when you get right down to it.

It's been thirty five years now since we opened the doors at Bear Creek Ranch.  Talk about a journey. My life has been a journey, particularly when it comes to that little ranch and the way it's intersected with me at every curve, corner, and traffic light along the way.  Marriages, children, life, and death, good times, not so good times, but through it all, the one constant, the relationships that I've known and the ones that I haven't but are still to come.  We don't raise cattle at our place, we have raised more than a few horses, but really, what we've raised the most, are relationships with our guests, those that were, those that are, and those that are yet to come.  I've thought on occasion that it would be nice to raise cattle.  Hell, cattle don't talk back, don't take up your time when you've got something else on your mind, a project to complete, an errand to run.  But you know what, I think I've come out on the right end on that one.  I've had a fascination with people, and as I call it, the human condition, for as long as I can remember,  And I still do!

It's been an interesting Saturday morning.  I just got an e-mail from a fellow that worked at the ranch thirty years ago.  Now where the hell did that come from, after all these years.  I'd thought of Mike from time to time, not with total fondness and not without some as well.  I suspect if we'd been the best of friends we'd have never lost track of each other.  But there it is.  I'll be seeing Mike this summer.  He'll be a paying guest, which is one good thing, and we'll undoubtedly share some life, me and him.  And that will pretty interesting.  Did he ever marry the girl he loved so much back in 1988? Did he know of the girl I loved in 1988 and married in 1989?  Does he have children?  Does he know I have children?  Oh boy, and there's more of course.

I've got to fill you in on another fellow, Frankie,  who's been a guest at our ranch for three decades. He's been on hunts, pack trips, cattle drives, and ranch vacations with us.  This past summer, he was here at the ranch twice, once with his wife and grandson, and later on in the fall, with his wife and another neat couple.  Frankie worked for a big outfit in the Midwest for years and not months after retiring after forty years of hard work, was diagnosed with a rather serious form of cancer.  He was sick during his vacation here in July and appeared stronger in the fall.  This winter hasn't been kind to him and I find myself thinking about the fickle and often unfair nature of life.

Changing gears, there's the real good stuff out there as well.  We've had three marriages at the ranch the past couple years and they've all been good stuff.  I mean really good people getting married on just the perfect day, and a helluva good party afterword.  I have a strong feeling that those marriages are all gonna' work.  Hell, one of 'em was mine so there you go.  I think the ranch, at times, has an almost mystic feel to it.  Those weddings had it.  "Into the Mystic."

There's so much more but before I wrap this up I want to tell you about Pat.  Hell, most of you know him.  Pat worked at the place more than thirty years ago, fresh out of high school somewhere on the East Coast.  I'm not sure Pat had even graduated, not that it mattered.  He was young then, just beginning, and stayed with us for a couple years.  But there was something about Pat, even then.  He had a quiet kind of ambition. And when he told me he was going to be building a Mexican Restaurant in his sister's older log home in East Glacier, I thought well, he's in for a rude awakening.  Now remember, that's going back more than a few years.  What the hell did I know?  What the hell did Pat know?  Well, he knew a helluva' bunch more than me!  It wasn't long before he and his wife Renee had that old log building tore down and built up.  And you know the rest of this story.  Serrano's Mexican Restaurant is one of the most successful business's west of the Mississippi River.  Those strawberry daiquiris and blended margaritas go down like none other.  Pat toasted me with his personal stash of fine Tequila on my 60th birthday.  As Augustus McRae, Texas Ranger, said, "it's been quite the party."  And it all started at Bear Creek Ranch.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Me and Cliven Bundy

I was with a student this past fall, in a practicum setting, in an office, at the University of Montana. She was a foreign student, a long way from home in Asia, with a rudimentary knowledge of the English language, very soft spoken, and beyond quiet, both in her spoken word and physical presence.  I spent an hour each week for two months in a therapeutic setting as we attempted to make sense of her loneliness and isolation in a foreign country and culture.  On more than one occasion I saw tears slowly drip down her cheeks, the result of too little communication with the world around her, and an inability to develop new relationships in a strange new world.   I happened to be eating lunch one day in the University Center, having grabbed a chair off by itself, or so I thought, and after having a few words with a colleague, turned my head and not three feet from me, alone as well, was the young lady I just described in the words above.  I'd been sitting there for at least ten minutes and I hadn't seen her specifically nor had I been aware of anyone even in the vicinity.  All that time, and that close proximity, and I hadn't said Hi, nor had she.

After a mildly awkward "Hi, how are you?" I went about my business, continued reading, and wondered how I would make my exit without engaging in conversation, an action that is not recommended in the world of therapeutic counseling.  The rule of thumb is that counselors don't acknowledge clients in the "outside" world, but do so if addressed first.  And regardless, we keep it short and sweet.  After ten minutes or so I made my farewell, quietly, and without what would be for me in other circumstances, a hearty and heartfelt farewell.  I just left.

I just got up and left that poor, lonely, and socially isolated girl, in her chair, with no one else around, and I hadn't said a word to her upon leaving.  I was stuck, just plain stuck, caught between a rock and hard place, stuck between the ethics of the therapeutic environment I have pledged an oath to and my own personal creed of human relationship and kindness.  But I blew it.  I walked out without one word and I left.

There was a next session and  I made it a point, right at the get go, to explain my lack of courtesy to her, and to give to her my sincerest apology.  I should have acknowledged her as I left the lunch room, even if with just a few words.  My actions that previous week should have been exactly what I've always felt a kinship to, and that is acknowledging, developing and maintaining relationships with the people around me.  I haven't always been successful but the effort is important, even if it's awkward, out of place, and in the end, doesn't work. The plain fact of the matter is that the odds are in one's favor with even less than one's best effort.

I've been in the guest ranch business for more than forty years and for the greatest part of that time at Bear Creek Ranch in northern Montana.  One could make the case for the importance of developing close relationships in the very specific guest business I'm in.  That makes alot of sense.  The plain fact of the matter is however, that the development and maintenance of personal relationships is a critical component of almost any association, business, team, or gathering of human beings anywhere.  The nature of the interpersonal relationships of people in any form can be the defining quality that separates failure from success and from misery to happiness.  I've seen it in the flesh on too many occasions as I'm sure you have as well, and I suspect, if the truth were known, we've all been party to the bad end of relationships that with some thought and effort could have been avoided.

That being said, a huge part of the success that I've had at Bear Creek Ranch has been through the growth and maintenance of the relationships that I have been able to nurture over the course of three and a half decades.  I couldn't have made it all these years without many very key friendships that have stood the test of time.   Some come and sadly, some go, but the ones that remain are like battle hardened old war horses.  I am and always will be eternally grateful for those that are.

Ya' know, it's pretty hard to operate in this world, under any circumstances, without some sort of a network of family or friends.  I've seen that better than ever the past few years and I've begun to see the scars that begin to emerge of the psyche of the human soul when one does attempt to navigate the world of the social animal alone, solo.  It rarely works.  I'm grateful for even the modest success I've had and rueful that I've left a few in the dust.  I guess if one is beyond the middle zone on the graph of human sociability then you're rolling ahead of the curve.

So here's to all of you, family and friends, here's to all of us.  Let our days ahead be full of joy and spirit, dignity and faith, and to everyone, the best New Year ever!

Oh yeah, Cliven Bundy fits in somewhere.  I just don't know where!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

No Place Like Home... Reflections

                                                 Hair, Hippies, and Here

I remember doing the radio show in the nineties.  The Hi Line Sportsman it was called.  I did an anti-environmental commentary for five to ten minutes a couple times a week.  Back in those days I was a pissed off permittee of the Unites States Forest Cervix, and pissed off and pissed on I was.  Truth be known, I did most of the pissing and in fairness to the whole deal I was, how should I put this, given a whole lot of latitude.  But that was then and this is now although I do recall taking lots of shots at the University of Montana or as I not very fondly referred to it as "the school of nuts and raisins." Between the professional apparatus at the U pumping out up and coming bureaucrats into the system and my inability to survive as a servant of that mentally vacuous machine I lost the war.  I still get pissed off thinking about that but time does have a way of softening past blows and things change. 
Like, here I am, in Missoula, Montana, a bunch of years later (doing graduate work) and it ain't as bad as I thought it might be.  Granted, I'm not ensconced in the bowels of the school of natural resources every day listening to the drivel of the environmental aristocracy lecturing to their worshiping, brainwashed pupils.  Thank God.  Truth be known, I do have relapses of PTSD as I work my through the smattering of mare hippies waiting for their sushi and latte in the UC cafeteria.  I can smell 'em a mile away.  That said, I've mellowed,  I can live with 'em, at a distance!  I shudder to think they'll be part of that corporate natural resource intelligentsia, that part of which is still so foreign, and yes, repulsive to me.  But, I've mellowed, changed.  Nevertheless, the following are some thoughts on the whole matter and more.

I'm still a huge fan of "Range" magazine, the bible of the American  West.  There isn't a day that goes by when an issue of some critical nature, whether it be wolves, climate change, private property rights, endangered species, etc. and although I may listen to any number of opinions myself, and even have a few, I ultimately lean back on the words of wisdom of "Range."  "Range is an award winning quarterly devoted to the issues that threaten the American West, its people, lifestyles, lands, and wildlife.  Range is a leading forum for opposing viewpoints in the search for solutions that will halt the depletion of a national resource- the American cowboy." Range is where I go to when I'm confused, angry, or even bitter.  I can't look to books, lectures, and the pontification
of professional intellectuals for wisdom.  I look to the working men and women on the ground on the front lines. The search for true wisdom comes from the men or women who've battled in the trenches of real life on farms and ranches from coast to coast.  Their stories are written on the pages of "Range" magazine every other month.  I urge you to google them up and see for yourself.

The wolf issue in the American West has died down quite a bit.  I can recall the subject first getting broached with me at a meeting some Forest Service officials in the backcountry in the late 1980's.  I think they thought I was of a new breed of cat, forward thinking, and probably amenable to the new world order of wolf reintroduction and recovery in the American West.  That evening may have been the beginning of my undoing as a new, fresh faced permittee of the corporation.  I'd only seen a few wolves up to that point in my entire life and it wasn't the wolf itself that initially ran shivers down my spine, it was the attendant flood of bureaucracy that I knew would follow.  The wolf issue has always been as much about the role of an alien societal presence and role of government in our lives as it has been about just the presence of the wolf itself.  That conflict still rages, even when it isn't making headlines.  That's further reason why you should always go to bed with the "bible" of the American West on your nightstand.  

And back to the county and town of Missoula, Montana.  Prior to my first school year in town I did have some apprehension about the liberal bias and makeup of the community, and certainly the university.  My nervousness hasn't been justified by the experience I've had in "Zootown."  With only some to be expected exceptions, living in and going to school in Missoula has been a pleasure.  I've found the town to be a hardworking, middle class enclave surrounding a university that hasn't lived up to the wacky reputation I gave it.  I'm all for good discussion and intelligent discourse on almost any issue and a university atmosphere is the perfect place for that.  I've met quite a few students and professionals from every discipline the college has to offer and have yet to have a heated, unreasonable discussion with anyone.  Missoula is growing at a reasonable rate, real estate prices seem to be in the norm, and trophy homes and gated communities haven't yet found fertile ground for germination.  Yeah, there's always a rub.  That lack of uber-wealth in Missoula and the surrounding area is a good thing.  Take a look at Gallatin County and the town of Bozeman and you're staring at a phenomenon that is as much a threat to the quality of life in the American West as the advent of wolf generation was twenty years ago.

It wasn't too many years ago and a ranch was worth what a ranch was worth.  That is, it was worth the price of the buildings, the number of cows, and the amount of land.  Oh to be sure, there were other items of value like water rights, hay meadows, road access, and the like.  That's changed.  Have you taken a look at the value of working ranches now, in 2015?   Well, once they're sold, the majority of them won't be working ranches anymore.  The working ranch and the families that have operated them for more than two centuries are slowly but surely disappearing, the casualties of  the erosion of the family farm and ranch to the mega wealth of American society.  I know that's a tough one to get your head wrapped around.  Success has always been wrapped up in the American dream, work hard and get rich.  I see that but I don't get it.  The plain fact of the matter is that large farms and ranches are being bought up, fenced off, and taken out of production, In many cases, the owners become absentee landlords, hire a caretaker, and visit when the weather is good, the trout fishing is at it's peak, and the skiing is at its best.  Now how in the hell does that square up with the very wisdom we were looking at when I started this rant?  It doesn't.  And all I can hope is that you get yourself a copy of Range magazine right now.  Then get a subscription, and get a real job.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Keystone Pipeline Beer

North to Polar Bears, South to Old Mexico

It's about time.  A gallon of gas in Montana can be had for a buck 98 now.  That's a helluva deal.  Diana just got home from her annual winter trip to Aruba and filled up the Mercedes for less than a hundred bucks. That's about half of what we were paying for a tank of gas just this past summer.  The price of gas is making everyone feel pretty good.  More money to buy beer.  When you think about it, a six pack of cheap beer, say Keystone for example, is about twice as expensive as a gallon of gas.  That's cool.  I always know there was a correlation between beer and gasoline.  Makes perfect sense doesn't it?  I doubt you're following my train of thought on the subject and you're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about.  Well, I'm not too sure myself but I'll give it a better go.  Ready?

Alright, so we're getting gasoline at the pump at prices we haven't seen since the last century.  And we are feeling pretty good about that.  We've got a few extra bucks lying around and the economy is picking up even more steam as we slowly but surely emerge from the recent economic slump.  The price of oil has a lot of influence on the overall economic health of not only our economy and well being but as well on the international economic picture.  Let's face it, on those levels, oil is the world's drug of choice.  We get high when there's lots of it and go into withdrawal when it's scarce.  For the time being, however, let's just assume that we're on a good roll that may last a while.  Life is good at the pump.  Keep on pumping.

I know what happens when gas is cheap.  Guess. We consume a hell of a lot more of it than we do when it's above three dollars a gallon. I've gone months without filling up my truck and forking over a hundred and fifty bucks at $3.89 s gallon. That's a chunk of change I don't always have handy.  Now, hell, I won't think twice about filling up and heading down the highway for business or pleasure.  I've got people and places I want to go see now that I can afford to.  (And by the way, I was just pulling your drawers about Diana going to Aruba on holiday.  She went to East Glacier to get the mail).

The problem with that nifty scenario is that when gas is cheap and life is good we do act like a society of junkies.  And you know what Neil Young said about that don't 'ya?  "Every junkie's like a setting sun, (Needle and the Damage Done, 1970)."  I may be acting a bit melodramatic at this point but I can't help but be thinking about Keystone Beer and Keystone Oil.  Shouldn't the oil cost more than the beer?  If we're tallkin' Michelob Ultra, or better yet, Moose Drool, our local favorite,  I'd be drinking oil.  There's the rub. We'll be consuming oil like it's a premier beer unless and until the price of oil goes back up to where it should be.

I know, you're ready to kick my ass.  Why in the hell do I want to see the price of oil to get high and stay high?  Well, it's because many years ago I did one of the greatest hunts of my lifetime in the far northeast corner of Alberta, hard up against the Northwest Territories border and not far from Saskatchewan.  That trip to the bush of Alberta was one of the highlights of my life.  We hunted out of a small cabin on a remote lake, only reachable by float plane.  And we were in the bush, as they say.  There wasn't much in the way of civilization in front of us, in back, or to the side of us for hundreds of miles.  I think Great Slave Lake was somewhere between us and the Arctic Circle.  And when I sauntered off for a morning hunt I was pretty darned careful about checking my back track, not wanting to to be spending the winter holed up in a polar bear den.  I hunted some of the most beautiful, primitive country I'd ever been in up to that point in my life. And to top that off, I killed a big bull moose that to this day hangs on the wall of our ranch house in Montana.  The kicker to that story is that where I hunted that weekend in Alberta more than twenty years ago is where the oil for the Keystone Oil Pipeline is coming from.  I'ts coming from the Alberta Tar Sands.

I've thought on many occasions what that country might look like now and I don't want to imagine too hard.  I'd imagine it doesn't look too much like it did back then.  I've heard stories.  I've not heard good stories about the exploration and extraction of the tar sands from that once pristine region up north.  It breaks my heart.  So how in the hell can I think good things about the most likely forthcoming construction of a pipeline from there to the Gulf Coast of Texas, carrying the oily residue of a scorched earth policy of strip mining the very country I walked on when I was young?  I can't do it.

From this point on in this writing I have a bad feeling that the more I write the more I'll be getting in over my head.  The subject matter gets pretty complex from here on out so I'll keep it simple and have it said.  Hey, I know we need oil, for our cars, trucks, industry, military, the whole enchilada.  I know that.  I also know, and so do you, that we need lots of big tracts of unspoiled country with lots of fresh air and water.  We don't just want it, we need it (Jagger, Richards, 1975).  We're beginning to experience a "going, going, gone kind of mentality that should be suited to a more primitive culture than what I'd like to believe we could be.  I only have to think ahead a decade or two and don't like what I fear we might all see on this abused planet of ours. I don't want to pay three or four dollars a gallon for gas any more than you do.  I also don't want to see that precious country that I hunted when I was young treated like a whore in old Mexico a century ago.

Jobs.  Oh yeah, that's the conundrum.  They say there's thousands of jobs waiting for you, both in northern Alberta, and along the path the Keystone pipeline will traverse.  Maybe and maybe not.  I've heard both sides of that coin and for the record, low gas prices have already, right now and as we speak, slowed things down in the oil patch.  So hold onto to that thought for a bit and in the meantime, if jobs or the lack thereof, are the thorn in the side of the most ardent supporters of Keystone XL Pipeline, why not get a little forward thinking and encourage an onslaught of research and development in massive wind and solar technology. Instead of "drill baby drill, (S. Palin)" we go to "build baby build, (W. Beck, 2021))."  They both employ lots of labor and the money is good.  Neither scenario is perfect and not without it's own respective good and poor points.  But I'll bet you a case of Moose Drool beer that the environmental impact on this good earth of ours will be substantially improved if we can graduate to a more pragmatic way to move forward.

I think the whole deal is a whole lot less complex than any of us want to recognize.  I know, in my case, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagining of the landscape in the tar sands country then, when it was primitive, and in it's prime, and now, chewed up, and spit out, to know which way I want to see us go.  So I've to to take it back to Neil, "I've seen the needle and damage done, a little part of it in everyone, but every junkie's like the setting sun, (N.Young, Needle and the Damage Done, 1970)."

Here's to Keystone Beer, Here's to Keystone Oil, For what it's worth,
" Let's drink to the Salt of the Earth, (Jagger, Richards, 1977)"