Montana has a long tradition of listening to and respecting — revering — its writers and the state’s literary tradition. In an unprecedented show of unity, more than forty of Montana’s best writers have gathered, in rapid response fashion, to write original essays and testimonials advocating for the protection of our public lands, and endorsing Democratic House of Representatives candidate Rob Quist’s position on this (literally) most common ground of issues. Please vote on May 25.
Our Public Lands
Growing up on a small farm and ranch in eastern Oregon provided me an early love for solitary pursuits and open spaces and a robust dislike for greedy elitists. The commonplace in our corner was that the wealthy and powerful, individual and institution alike, did not wish us well.
Quail hunting along our fields and fencerows armed with my .410, “a boy’s first gun,” as Charles Portis writes in Dog of the South, served me fine in those early years. When an early, deep snow drove chukar partridge down from the rimrocks and I caught sight and sound of their elegantly subdued plumage and muscular beauty, I was forever hooked, knowing I would pursue them along the rimrocks and river canyons as long as I am able.
The sagebrush and juniper steppes and canyons offering prime chukar habitat were primarily on Bureau of Land Management administered lands. Outfitted with a map and a twelve-gauge, I set forth, finding chukar along the margins of springs and seeps during the warm and dry days of October, then coveying and bursting from thick shrub cover in deep, powdery snows of early January.
Hunting and accessing public lands in many ways offered a primer for citizenship. I learned to read a map, to understand and respect lines and boundaries, but just as, or more importantly, how to stand up to bullies who would attempt to deny access to what was rightfully mine.
And that robust dislike of greedy elitists? A little more complicated once I recognized my dual privilege in accessing public lands while continuing to hunt on family property. Still, it was a position I never again took for granted. I would have never developed the passion for pursuing chukar partridge, nor expended the sweat and taken the pleasure from that pursuit without access to those BLM parcels.
There are differing forms of pride of ownership. Most tend toward the greedy, exclusionist, and corrosive, but to actually consider that we are all owners of our public lands is to realize the communal and inclusionary, which is what I fear troubles those who would advocate dispersal and disposal of our public lands.
On my first trail run of the season along Mount Sentinel’s (yes — public land) I pause and take in the distant peaks of the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests and Selway-Bitterroot and Rattlesnake Wilderness areas. In the foreground lies the Clark Fork River, restored following the removal of Milltown Dam, the Bitterroot River, and a string of fishing access sites and trailheads to occupy and entertain, heal and restore for a lifetime of summers. This birthright is accessible to all only if we continue exercising our rights and responsibilities, remaining vigilant, informed, and involved. Lolo Peak shines in equinoctial afternoon light. Runners, walkers, strollers, babies, bicyclists, birders, and daydreamers alike — all equal owners of that glistening peak. Would anyone present on this day consider squandering their share or auctioning it off for pennies?
Robert Stubblefield grew up in eastern Oregon and currently lives in Missoula, Montana and teaches at The University of Montana.