We’re a strange pair of fishing buddies, the retired Republican lawmaker and the environmentalist, but we sure do enjoy each other’s company. Together, we tramp through thickets, scramble down riverbanks, wade icy currents – all for the shared pleasure of laying a fly in front of a handsome westslope cutt.
This fall, as we bushwhacked into a secret hole, we couldn't help but notice each other’s hats: the veteran GOP campaigner was wearing a ballcap touting Trout Unlimited; the conservationist was bearing the badge of the local lumber mill. Maybe that’s why we get on so well. We’re willing to fish a mile in another man’s hat.
We both believe, generally, that there’s room enough in Montana’s wilds for all sorts of folks. We agree that there’s room enough for compromise, that it’s better to talk than to shout, that we’d rather negotiate than litigate. And we both believe that when neighbors cooperate in good faith to help manage their own backyards, then the powers that be should pay very close attention, and think twice before tipping the scales on behalf of special interests.
Together, when we weren't chasing trout, we spent a year working alongside a wild diversity of opinionated folk, hammering out a unanimous land-use agreement for forestlands west of Glacier National Park. We partnered with Democrats and Republicans, motorheads and wildernuts, slednecks and timber beasts. There were bikers and businessmen, backcountry guides and frontcountry realtors. Hunters, horsemen and anglers joined to express support. The Montana Logging Association was at the table, and so was the Montana Wilderness Association. Together, wary but in good faith, we set a goal of unanimous consent and a deadline of the first day of elk season. We worked darned hard over a whole year of lasagna and venison burgers and chili feeds and conversations.
Across Montana, similar partnerships have been working to solve thorny federal land-management problems – restoring forests, protecting wildlife, guaranteeing recreational access and improving local economies. These are difficult rooms to work in, where long-term adversaries are plodding through years of distrust toward common ground. We all want jobs and clean water, forests full of trails and big elk. And who better to help assure that than those of us who live, work and play on these world-class landscapes?
Locally built, collaboratively developed solutions – implemented and directed by professional land stewards – are the most enduring and beneficial of all, because they take into account local conditions and needs, while at the same time balancing national rules and regulations. When supported by lawmakers and implemented by federal land management agencies, these local partnerships provide powerful solutions.
Collaborative efforts between neighbors already have produced tremendous gains for Montana – created jobs in the woods, restored habitats, protected our landscapes, livelihoods and lifestyles – but they cannot succeed without buy-in from decision makers. If the powers-that-be expect ordinary folk to put new ideas on the table, they must also be ready to employ those ideas on the ground. Land managers must be open to creative proposals, and lawmakers must provide agencies the flexibility to enact those plans.
There is, in fact, room enough for most all of us in Montana’s wilds. We have proven that, unanimously, in our own backyard. But without support, all this hard work may ultimately come to naught. We cannot allow the heavy thumb of special interests, or agency bias, or political gridlock, to tip the scales we have in good faith worked so hard to balance. Montana’s decision-makers need to trust Montanans, and to recognize, always, the value of fishing a mile of river in another man’s hat.