I'm not gonna lie. I'm thrilled to be able to stand in front of all these great people and tell them my take on Malta, life and our great class. I will be working hard to put it together and keep it under two hours.
After the jump you can read the op-ed by
Here's the op-ed
The American Prairie Foundation (APF) may be America’s most ambitious conservation organization. I’ve long admired it from afar, provided modest support, and hope to visit the area again. Getting there, however, is quite the trek.
Here’s how the Spokesman Review described the reserve’s location: “To reach the refuge, tourists are going to have to travel down 50 miles or more of gravel roads that turn to impassible gumbo in wet weather.” A Washington Post reporter said: “The soil is bad, the weather worse and the landscape achingly dull. ... The population peaked a century ago and remaining ranchers cannot stop their children from running off to a less lonesome life.” Note the last sentence, it’s key to the saga.
The goal of APF is to preserve some three and a half million acres, more than half again as large as Yellowstone Park. APF’s president Sean Gerrity said that if their goals are met, over 90 percent of northeast Montana would remain in livestock production. However, “APF will continue to purchase strategic private lands that can be linked to existing public lands in order to provide the best possible habitat for wildlife.”
Ramona and I come from a long line of farmers and ranchers. We have a small ranch near the huge Flying D and celebrate its conservation success. The huge majority of the D is in an easement with the Nature Conservancy; this seems an ideal outcome. Most neighbors agree.
APF wants to replicate such sentiments: “As a private landowner, APF seeks to be a good neighbor to those who call the six-county region in which we are working home, and we desire to make a positive contribution to the local communities that we impact.” Alas, the situation around APF’s holdings is, for a while, quite different . The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance has organized families who don’t want to sell their holdings to the APF. Vicki Olson, owner of the Double O Ranch, was quoted saying: “I guess the point that I keep hammering at is that if they succeed, that means all of us third- and fourth-generation ranchers are gone.”
I’ve pondered such feelings for a long while and the answer came from our minister’s homily last Sunday. The question posed seemed simple, what gives satisfaction to living?
The pieces were no secret; I knew all the elements, but I found their arrangement revealing of a big truth. Together they help explain the angst plaguing the good ranchers of the Malta area. Essentially, a sense of well-being comes from overlapping hope, identity and community. The success of APF is a highly visible threat to these three values.
As with nearly every place, Northeast Montana was settled with high hopes. However, a conjunction of economic and cultural forces, local climate, and geographic realities augured against success. The area peaked a century ago.
As a result, the self-identity of their community as a thriving rural culture is unsustainable in today’s world. Shared values need a critical mass to be sustained. Young people, especially those with the greatest promise, are lured to places with greater opportunities for fulfillment.
All of this threatens the locals’ traditional set of hope, identity and community. This process would work its course independent of APF’s existence. APF, however, represents a readily identifiable alien force against which locals can mobilize.
I expect APF to ultimately foster wellbeing. The Malta area lacks many of our amenities. Its website notes that: “Visitors to American Prairie Reserve will stimulate local economic activity when they contract local guides and patronize local establishments.” Surely it brings tourist and hunters’ dollars and scientists. Consumer amenities, better shopping opportunities, and other advantages, including access to medical care, will likely follow.
Not all good things go together. Locals may feel disadvantaged by change. This is probably temporary. Given the quality of APF’s staff, and its Montana roots, there is hope for an emerging identity and community.
John Baden is the chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment and Gallatin Writers, Inc., both based in Bozeman.
Here is my response. The sections in redare the parts the Chronicle left out.
I’m very disappointed in last Wednesday’s column by John Baden. It appears as though John is on the payroll for the National Prairie Foundation. How much did they pay you, John? Thirty pieces of silver?
The agriculture industry has no bigger enemy than the environmental movement. Gerrity says that northeast Montana will lose less than 10 percent of livestock production, but he won’t stop there. He’s lying. How do I know this? Simple, he’s an environmentalist. They’re incapable of honesty. Need proof? How about wolf delisting? The “genetically pure” bison herd? Global warming? DDT? I don’t have enough room to list the lies and broken deals, and the NPF is just getting started.
Another thing, a 10 percent reduction is a 10 percent loss in income. Let me ask you, John, when was the last time a silver spoon academe like you took a 10 percent paycut? Besides never.
While I’m disappointed in your view of the NPF, I’m disgusted with your smug elitism in telling the great residents of Malta how they should make a living. You should be ashamed. I highly doubt if you would like to have someone come to your “ranch” and tell you they want you to do something different with your life to provide an income. By the way, a ranch is where livestock are produced. Just for the record.
Another thing John. I've know Vicki Olson for almost my entire life. She has more integrity in the mud on her boots than Steve Gerrity will have in 100 lifetimes.
Speaking of integrity, John, when did you lose yours? I know when you lost my respect.