It may be easy to forget when hiking alone into the wild areas of Montana that conservation starts with people. And to honor those who made the abundant natural resources and wildlife a staple of the state, an inaugural class of 12 will be inducted into the newly formed Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame later this month at a ceremony in Helena.
Longtime conservation advocate and author Jim Posewitz spearheaded the hall of fame, bringing the idea to several conservation organizations and the Montana Historical Society. With resounding support, the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame board formed and began looking into potential inductees.
Posewitz gives credit to the Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame for the inspiration, but Wyoming focuses primarily on game and fish employees, rather than the conservation community as a whole, he said.
“We began planning and decided in this first year to arbitrarily decide the first class,” Posewitz said. “We wanted the class to demonstrate people from the highest level of politics down to the grassroots because at any level in our society there are people working that make this happen.”
Although the board chose the first inductees, plans call for public nominations in future classes, Posewitz said.
The inaugural class includes deceased inductees like early wildlife advocate Granville Stuart, President Theodore Roosevelt, artist Charles M. Russell, Sen. Lee Metcalf, citizen advocate Don Aldrich, U.S. Forest Service trailblazer Bud Moore, tribal wilderness advocate Thurman Trosper, citizen advocate Doris Milner, and Scapegoat Wilderness advocate Cecil Garland. Living inductees include longtime wilderness volunteer Gerry Jennings, fisheries biologist and former Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation associate and deputy director Ron Marcoux and citizen advocate Chris Marchion.
“History is always told as the history of how we exploited it,” Posewitz said. “The side we never teach are the remarkable things done with our wildlands, and we’re capturing those stories and trying to connect them to contemporary events to show that conservation is relevant.”
The Montana Historical Society will house a permanent display of inductees and played a major role in verifying the histories and significance of the nominees. Having professional researchers vet the candidates adds a degree of credibility to the hall of fame, said Bruce Whittenberg, director of the historical society.
“The idea was to be diverse and to have the spectrum of outdoor conservation represented,” he said. “Conservation and outdoor recreation are a part of our history and a part of who we are.”
Becky Garland, daughter of Scapegoat Wilderness advocate Cecil, described her father as an honest and direct man who worked hard for what he believed in. Cecil was not particularly confrontational, but would speak up when asked, she said.
Cecil opened a store in Lincoln and worked for the Forest Service to make ends meet but disagreed with many of the policies that depleted the backcountry he loved. When word came of a timber sale in what would become the Scapegoat Wilderness, Cecil and others formed the Lincoln Back Country Protective Association to fight against the logging and for permanent protection.
Boycotts of the store soon followed and threatened his livelihood, but supporters drove from as far away as Helena and Missoula to keep Cecil in business. In 1972, Montana’s congressional delegation succeeded in the Scapegoat’s designation.
“It’s kind of humbling for sure being in a group of people that distinguished,” Becky said. “We were little kids when he did what he did, but now as we look back and know there’s a great piece of property that’s protected, for me I’m terribly proud of it.”
Taking pride in a legacy of protected lands was echoed by the living inductees as well.
Although no new wilderness has been designated in Montana since 1983, any layer of protection that a landscape receives opens the door for more protection down the road, Jennings said. The honor is fitting given that 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, she added.
The Great Falls resident persists in her advocacy with the Montana Wilderness Association because of her love of wild places, the people who have persisted alongside her and the importance for future generations. If those who advocated for wilderness came up short in one area, it was not realizing the need to involve the next generation to continue the fight, she said.
The hall of fame is a great way to tell people the history of their public lands while also honoring those that started the movement, Jennings said.
“Every time you honor someone or something you’re letting people know the importance of something,” she said. “It’s a neat thing and needless to say, a wonderful honor.”
Marcoux agreed on the importance of reflecting on the history of conservation in Montana while looking to the future. While he believes others may be more deserving of the honor, Marcoux said he is overwhelmed and humbled by his induction.
The Helena resident worked for FWP in fisheries during one of the biggest shifts in the division. Despite serious resistance, he and some other biologists successfully pushed the department to shift policy away from continually stocking trout to allowing the development of a naturally reproducing trout fishery.
Marcoux also developed several of the land programs in the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation after retiring from FWP. Conservation never happens with only one person, he said.
“When you look back on this history and seeing a lot of changes take place and seeing the individuals that stood up and made changes or worked to preserve some of the best areas of the state, I think recognizing those folks is incredibly important,” he said. “It all adds up to something and we’re truly lucky here in Montana to have these opportunities.”
Anaconda resident Marchion emphasized that while he is the inductee, the honor goes far beyond him to the many people he worked with over the years to make conservation possible.
“Montana has pretty much effectively restored every wildlife and fish species with the one exception of bison,” he said. “When you look at that whole diversity, this is the state that’s really set the marker for everyone else.”
With nearly three decades of conservation advocacy, Marchion’s projects include mining settlements on the Clark Fork River, formation of the Mount Haggin Game Range, the elimination of game farm hunting and drafting the Bighorn Sheep auction legislation, which has raised millions of dollars for bighorn conservation in the state.
“It’s a real honor to be on the list and you wonder if you’re really worthy,” he said. “My family knows what I’ve put in over the years, and now my grandkids and family going forward get to say that ‘He did something extraordinary with conservation.’”
Major supporters of the hall of fame include the Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation, the Broadbent Family Foundation, Boone and Crockett Club, the Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Trout Unlimited and the Cinnabar Foundation.
The induction ceremony will be held at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena at 5 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $50, with table reservations available for $800. Registration information is available by calling (406) 444-6759 or at at mtoutdoorlegacy.org.