What Winning for Wilderness Looks Like

by lizard

I’ve had several people direct my attention to Ed Kemmick’s new project, Last Best News, and I can see why. His peek into the racist mind of Max Lenington is incredibly well-written. Kemmick also bid his farewell to Montana’s senatorial pork hustler in a piece titled Max Baucus: A long career, a long goodbye. In that article Kemmick describes Baucus as the insider’s insider:

It’s no crime to lack spark, but in Baucus’ case the absence of connection was directly related to how much more comfortable he seemed in Washington than he did when he came back to Montana. He was the professional insider, the quiet political functionary who knows all the right people and trims his sails to catch every passing breeze.

Without Max in that position of influence, Ochenski makes note in his weekly column what that probably means for the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. I’d read the whole piece, but for a quick summary, here is Ochenski’s conclusion:

The harsh reality is that the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act will likely fall victim to the political sleight-of-hand that brought Walsh to the Senate as Baucus’ replacement. Baucus proclaimed the bill to be “one of his top priorities as he finishes out his final term” and that he was “more determined than ever to bring the Heritage Act to the finish line.”

But the truth is that Baucus is gone and with him, all the power, persuasion and vote-trading that traditionally brings bills to “the finish line.” Instead, we get yet another example of our severely dysfunctional political system.

Instead of reading about dysfunction, I offer an alternative read. Jeffrey St. Clair has a great article celebrating his friend and activist, Mike Garrity. St. Clair opens around a campfire in Western Montana:

Five years ago, I was sitting at a campfire in the foothills of the Bridger Mountains of western Montana, with a few close friends, sipping whiskey while watching a dazzling sunset dissolve behind the ragged peak of Haystack Mountain on the distant horizon. It was my 50th birthday and there was no better place to mourn the passing of the years.

Most of us circled around that crackling fire of lodgepole pine were grizzled veterans of environmental battles and we looked the part. The decades had taken their toll: Bad backs, hip replacements, busted ankles, arthritic wrists, failing eyeballs. One of us stood out, though. He was lean, sinewy and sported the implacable, no bullshit gaze of an auditor at the IRS. His name was Mike Garrity and he was by far the most dangerous figure on the mountain that night, except, perhaps, for the young grizzly that had been sighted rummaging through a berry patch just up the slope earlier in the week.

The article describes how Garrity’s Alliance for the Wild Rockies has been so effective, and it’s not just lawsuits. Some of the collaborations Garrity cobbled together show how good he is at building relationships, even among groups that aren’t natural allies to environmental issues. Here are some examples:

Garrity has a unique gift for getting unlikely folks to take couragous stances in the defense of the environment. For example, in 1996, Garrity helped convince the Southern Utah Loggers Association to sign onto a letter to the Chief of the Forest Service calling for the protection of all roadless lands from logging. Their logic was two-fold: first, they had a legitimate concern about protecting the environment; second, they argued that timber sales in roadless areas were most likely to be bought and logged by large out-of-state corporations.

Garrity pulled a similar coup in the Northern Rockies when he almost single-handedly convinced the Teamsters and Operating Engineers Unions of eastern Washington, to back a plan drafted by the Alliance that called for reintroducing grizzly bears to Central Idaho and western Montana, as well as protecting all roadless lands and ripping out more than 3,500 of existing logging roads that pose a threat to fish and bears.

In a realm that too often lacks encouraging news, Mike Garrity’s activism is a breath of fresh air.  Go get ’em, Mike!

  1. steve kelly

    Roadless areas on the Rocky Mountain Front will be far better off without Baucus’s anemic privatization bill. His “special language” is a disgrace to the wildlife and wilderness values already marginally protected by Clinton’s Roadless Rule. It was a big step in the wrong direction for wilderness and advocates who value wildlife habitat, fisheries and water quality and quantity as equals to recreational opportunities. “Political dysfunction” isn’t always a bad thing.

    • JC

      Yep, good riddance to Sen. “Gumby!”

      And congrats to Garrity and the Alliance, and too you to Steve. A lot of people over the years helped build AWR to the lean, mean machine it is today! And we’re all eminently grateful that Mike continues to carry the torch.

  2. Why doesn’t Ochenski ever run for office of some sort?

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