Land and Community in Transition:
The Big Hole Valley of Montana
Directed by Ramona Marotz-Baden, Ph.D.
Southwestern Montana's upper Big Hole valley has
only recently attracted outsiders. Ramona Marotz-Baden, Gallatin's
program coordinator, has been studying this high-altitude cow-calf
ranching community. Her focus is on the adaptations of long-term
residents to low agricultural commodity prices, technological innovation,
and immigration of newcomers.
Land prices have risen as newcomers compete for
the land, and at the same time, agricultural prices have fallen.
Consequently, farmers and ranchers cannot increase or even maintain
their income by buying additional acreage. Land sells for a premium
that simply won't "pencil out" in agriculture. Thus, for
retirement income, or for equitable distribution among children
at the death of parents, the land will likely be sold to outsiders
rather than kept in the family. The cultural values of trans-generational
farm families and the ecological integrity of their operations are
often lost when current land owners cannot pass their operations
to their children.
This is a rare opportunity to study how
ranchers and their adult children, business owners, and newcomers
adapt to these changes and to each other in a traditional, ecologically
sustainable community. Thus far, the pilot project has focused on
ranch families. Additional resources can broaden the study to include
newcomers and business owners.
The Big Hole Watershed
Committee: A Critical Investigation
Directed by Don Snow
Montana's Big Hole Valley contains the last fluvial
(river born) population of Arctic grayling in the lower 48 states.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates that
only 3,000 are left in the Big Hole drainage, and these are the
last of their kind south of the Canadian border. Thus, the fish
is a prime candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
But grayling are not the only rare creatures in
the Big Hole. The ranchers of the Big Hole learned long ago to integrate
their cattle and haymaking operations using the least-cost technology.
Instead of buying ever bigger and ever more expensive haying equipment,
Big Hole ranchers stubbornly persisted in stacking their hay in
the fields, using homemade wooden stackers called "beaver slides."
Baling and shipping hay is a rare practice in the Big Hole. The
result of these efforts is a sustainable system of agriculture.
Until very recently, nearly every high school student in the Big
Hole was a graduate of the University of Haying. They learned native
skills and the values that go with the job, while the ranching families
of the valley managed to keep the know-how of low-tech agriculture
Unfortunately, the ranchers and the fish end up
competing for the same water. Under Western water law - with its
fierce dictate of "use it or lose it" - the ranchers of
the Big Hole often squeeze the river to get the needed irrigation
water. Environmentalists recognize the cost to the vanishing grayling.
Given the marginal nature of agriculture, some fear that too much
pressure on Big Hole ranchers will hasten land subdivision. The
water situation in the valley appears to offer a Hobson's choice:
if fish are favored, ranchers are hurt; if ranching is saved, the
fish may be lost.
Residents have crafted their own solution by creating
the Big Hole Watershed Committee, which devises non-coercive solutions
to the valley's dilemma. The committee seeks to raise money, public
interest, and expertise in efforts to save the grayling while keeping
agriculture viable. This strategy seems to be working.
Gallatin Writers believes that this model of collaborative
resource management should be studied, evaluated, and eventually
publicized, for it provides positive models for the future. In so
many Western natural resource and environmental issues, productive
energies are dissipated through unproductive bickering. The Big
Hole Watershed Committee is trying to solve the problem in a manner
as sustainable and efficient as the agriculture practiced by some
of its members.
Community-Based Conservation of Cold Water Fisheries
Directed by John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Gallatin Writers is leading an effort to reclaim
high-quality fisheries in the Northern Rockies. We propose to produce
a professional video designed to show landowners how to restore
riparian and fishery habitat and increase the value, both ecological
and financial, of their property.
The Bozeman, Montana area has a significant ranching
tradition and is a mecca for those interested in high-quality trout
fisheries. Often, however, there is a serious gulf between landowners
and conservationists interested in promoting stream restoration.
This project is designed to bridge this gap and demonstrate how
the interests of farmers, ranchers, and other landowners can complement
People with experience in the farming and ranching
industry will help produce and promote the video to agricultural
landowners in our region, thus attracting an accepting and interested
audience. Gene Surber, a natural resources specialist for Montana
State University Extension Service, has worked for 30 years with
ranchers, government agencies, and environmental organizations,
and will play a key role in this project. He has produced several
videos on the technology of restoring streams and riparian areas.
Dr. Jim Knight, Extension wildlife specialist at Montana State University,
specializes in motivating landowners and offering various fish and
wildlife management practices, will also join the effort.
Several local ranchers and farmers have successfully
protected, improved, or rejuvenated riparian areas. For example,
rancher Tom Milesnick successfully restored streams and a portion
of the Gallatin River. He built fences to control cattle use of
riparian areas, and stopped spraying herbicides near the water.
He offers fishing access to a maximum of six people per day at $50
Such diversification is especially beneficial
for farmers and ranchers. When land has been in the family since
the early 1900s, as in the Milesnicks' case, it is no easy thing
to give it up to subdivision and development. However, with a struggling
agricultural industry there is great pressure, and often little
choice, but to sell and subdivide the land. To resist these pressures,
many successful farmers and ranchers are seeking innovative ideas
that preserve their way of life for the next generation and the
riparian zone for all. For some, the improvement of the resource
may be sufficient incentive. Others will be motivated by the income
potential of a high-quality fishing experience.
Gallatin Writers will work with Gene Surber, Jim
Knight, and various conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited
to design and produce the video. Surber and Knight have credibility
and opportunities to introduce the video to farmers, ranchers, other
land-owners, and conservation groups.
The video project will be an excellent opportunity
for Gallatin Writers to foster creativity and cooperation among
two of the West's most important constituencies: agriculturists
and conservationists, as well as to work closely with Montana State
The Private Lands
Directed by Scott Ridgeway
Using photos and stories of individuals and families,
fine-art photographer Scott Ridgeway will create a coffee-table
book that celebrates the innovative contributions of private landowners
to environmental stewardship. Dozens of private, nonprofit land
trusts such as The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land,
and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation work hard to protect significant
private lands through contracts and fee-simple purchase.
Ridgeway's combined photographic and literary
project will draw attention to these innovative experiments in habitat
restoration and land conservation. These efforts illustrate a larger
movement toward experimentation with new institutional arrangements
for achieving conservation goals. Private initiatives are not intended
to subvert the government's conservation efforts, but rather to
complement those approaches and extend conservation onto lands that
are not managed by public agencies.
Since 1994, Ridgeway has photographed lands that
are protected and preserved by individuals, conservation organizations,
and forward-thinking businesses. Ridgeway's work illustrates a vital
but often neglected piece of the conservation puzzle: environmental
entrepreneurs who bring ecologically valuable private lands into
The objective of this attractive book is to expand
the knowledge of innovative practices people can use on their own
land or can offer as alternative solutions to environmental problems.
The beautiful, illustrative photographs will grab the eye, especially
of the visual learner, and the accompanying text will tell a compelling
story about each project.
of Policy Forums: Science and Innovative Land Management.
Directed by John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Romance mythology defines the West for both the
long-term resident and the newcomer. Gallatin does not attempt to
alter the fundamental economic and social shifts underway in the
West, but rather to study them and explain what is happening in
understandable language, thus providing an information base for
informed policy decision-making. Important economic, environmental,
and political decisions are likely to be far better if based on
scientific reality than on romance.
In 2001, Gallatin will host a short series of
"policy forums" to explore innovative conservation practices
and their application to public policy. Increasingly, conservation
efforts benefit from both private and public contributions while
avoiding the high costs of public ownership and political control.
Rather than addressing the symptoms of poorly designed institutions
and national policies, we propose a gathering of scholars, media,
practitioners, and public intellectuals to explore modest proposals
Topics of the first seminar are Great Basin
Restoration, Ecological Implications of Growth in the Greater Yellowstone
Ecosystem, and In Fire's Way. Our contacts in regional media (e.g.,
Geoff O'Gara, producer for Wyoming Public Television and Marv Granger,
Director of Yellowstone Public Radio) and with public intellectuals
(e.g., Dan Kemmis of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West) can
help introduce the topics and discussion to the region.
Alternatives for Lewis and Clark's Missouri River: Preservation,
Directed by John A. Baden, Ph.D.
The bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and
Clark Expedition (2003-2005) will focus attention upon the Upper
Missouri River, especially the 139-mile Wild and Scenic portion
in Montana. This section is extremely attractive, with magnificent
white limestone cliffs and spectacular topographic relief. Currently,
the area receives modest commercial and private recreational use.
However, with the impending Bicentennial, the success of Stephen
Ambrose's recent book, Undaunted Courage, and Ken Burns'
PBS special on Lewis and Clark, interest in and recreational use
of this section is increasing dramatically. As a result, a national
treasure is at risk. It is this threat, which will last well beyond
the Bicentennial, that motivated Gallatin Writers, in cooperation
with the Foundation
for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE),
to call for proposals. We requested proposals exploring alternative
institutional arrangements for the protection of the Wild and Scenic
portion of the Missouri River. Gallatin and FREE
convened a nationally respected jury
to review the proposals and awarded prizes as indicated below.
The river corridor is a mosaic of land ownership.
Private lands are mixed with state and federal public lands managed
by several agencies. The river corridor is managed by the Department
of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM). On the BLM lands,
ranchers lease rights to graze cattle, which congregate in the river's
lush bottom lands.
The increasing national attention to this stretch
of river has produced growing conflict among recreationists and
between recreational and traditional agricultural uses. This has
prompted some people to lobby the federal government to consider
designating the area a national park or a national monument.
Local ranchers are concerned such a move would
threaten their grazing rights and restrict resource development
during especially difficult economic times, and experience shows
that conventional approaches to environmental protection (e.g.,
establishing federally designated protected areas and carefully
limiting human use) are often insufficient to protect threatened
The cooperation of private landowners, people
with huge emotional and economic investments in their land, makes
protection more effective. As noted in the booklet, "The View
from Airlie: Community Based Conservation in Perspective,"
produced by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation:
The real trouble with the protected area strategy
is that it tends to omit humanity from the realm of nature and from
the enterprise of nature conservation. Humanity can't be omitted.
Homo sapiens is an ecological reality, and ineluctable part of the
larger landscape outside of protected areas, where most of the Earth's
biological diversity resides. Realism, not to mention justice, therefore
demands that efforts to conserve biological diversity must be efforts
to address human needs too.
Creativity, flexibility, and adaptability are
essential to coordinate environmental protection across ownerships.
Given the constraints inherent to large governmental bureaucracies,
these qualities are elusive under politically centralized management.
The challenge of enlisting the support of private landowners has
created a niche for a new breed of environmental activist, namely,
environmental entrepreneurs. Environmental entrepreneurs specialize
in identifying conservation opportunities, mobilizing resources,
and building a constituency for conservation. As demonstrated by
the success of Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation,
and hundreds of local organizations, these efforts are a vital piece
of the conservation challenge.
Creative, constructive ideas are highly valuable
in the environmental policy field. Past debates have degenerated
into images of Jane Fonda chaining herself to a tree or unemployed
loggers advocating spotted owl stew. Gallatin Writers sees an open
niche for academics, environmental activists, and politicians of
any party. Bravery and creativity are required to propose reforms
that support both local communities and ecosystems.
For example, consider the CAMPFIRE program in
Zimbabwe, the National Audubon Society's oil and gas leasing program
in their Rainey Preserve, the Texas State Park's move toward self-supporting
management, and the Malipais Borderland group in the American Southwest.
We find especially creative the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance's successful
effort to raise $16 million to purchase timber rights for the Loomis
State Forest in Washington, and the creation of an independent trust
to manage the Baca Ranch in New Mexico as it moves into Forest Service
administration. We wish to encourage such examples of "outside
the box" thinking.
As Alexis de Tocqueville explained early in our
history, Americans excel at building voluntary institutions to pursue
shared interests. It is in the spirit of de Tocqueville that Gallatin
Writers and FREE
invited the exploration of alternatives to achieving conservation
goals on the Wild and Scenic portion of the Missouri River.
Presenting the winners
of the Missouri River Project
Click on the names to view each proposal.
Seven? Explorations of Social Change
September 26 - 29, 2002 Castles Forestry Center, The University
of Montana Lubrecht Experimental Forest
Presented by Gallatin Writers
SOCIAL CHANGE AND THE
Social movements, like ecosystems, evolve. Although many challenges
remain, there is little doubt that Americans have changed the way
they think about the environment. In some cases, the results are
dramatic. For example, in the 1960s the U.S. Navy occasionally used
whales for target practice. A quarter century later, the Navy spent
over a million dollars to help rescue a single whale trapped under
Similarly, the way we talk about natural resources
is far different than it was just decades ago. "Swamps"
have become "valuable wetlands," and creatures once considered
vicious predators such as wolves now adorn our nature books and
calendars. Fundamentally, this is a cultural phenomenon.
When the Sagebrush Rebels advocated decentralization
of federal land management in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the
idea was repugnant to Greens. Today, explorations in decentralization
and community-based conservation motivate the movement. Consider
Dan Kemmis, former mayor of Missoula, Montana, and now director
of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West. He is one of the leading
advocates for moving environmental decision making to regional constituencies.
These ideas rapidly moved from radical to mainstream.
Many federal land management agencies are now pursuing collaborative
arrangements and experimenting with local stewardship. What implications
do these changes have for the cultures and ecological landscapes
of the American West, where vast expanses of public lands bring
these questions into sharp relief?
THE DIMENSIONS OF THE ISSUE
The publication of the 1970 report, A University View of the Forest
Service (better known as the Bolle Report), marked the beginning
of an era of national forest management characterized by conflict,
inconsistencies, dissatisfaction, and finally gridlock. This at
the expense of local communities, national taxpayers, and sustainable
In 1971 John Baden debated Milton Friedman at
the University of Montana. This led to the article "Externality,
Property Rights, and the Management of our National Forests,"
by Baden and Rick Stroup, in the Journal of Law and Economics. The
paper laid out the importance of understanding how alternative institutional
arrangements can promote environmentally sensitive management of
the national forests.
In a Reason cover story of 1981 Baden and Stroup
published "A Radical Plan for Saving the Wilderness."
This introduced the notion of "Wilderness Trusts" as an
alternative to federal management. In the intervening years Baden
has produced a number of book chapters and opinion pieces for national
publications (e.g., The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times)
further developing these ideas.
On February 6, 2002, Agriculture Undersecretary
Mark Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, proposed a radical
policy experiment. He wants to turn over the management of one or
two national forests to local trusts. The "charter forest"
idea presents an opportunity for constructive thought, writing,
and possibly even action. However, the path toward progress is neither
costless nor certain. Constructive reforms aimed at achieving positive
ecological and social outcomes require leadership, innovation, and
In September 2002 Gallatin Writers cosponsored
a three-day conference with the Center for the Rocky Mountain West.
Held at the University of Montana's Castles Forestry Center in the
Lubrecht Experimental Forest, "Region Seven? Explorations of
Social Change" examined the history of national forest management
and the potential for experiments in decentralized management, i.e.
forest trusts or charter forests. Participants included Jack Ward
Thomas, former Forest Service chief, as well as academics, journalists,
foundation representatives, and community activists.
to view Program Agenda
2004 Wallace Stegner Essay Contest: Healing the Marriage Between
the Boomer and the Nester
Wallace Stegner claimed that he was born
to write one story -- the story of the “boomer” and the “nester” on
the western frontier. In Stegner's novels, these two were often
literally wedded in a tension-filled marriage. One thinks of Bo and
Elsa Mason in The
Big Rock Candy Mountain , or Oliver and Susan Ward in Angle
of Repose. Stegner readily admitted that he based these
characters partly on his parents:
My father was a boomer, a gambler, a rainbow-chaser, as footloose
as a tumbleweed in a windstorm. My mother was always hopefully,
hopelessly, trying to nest. Like many western Americans, especially
the poorer kids, I was born on wheels ( Where the Bluebird
Sings to the Lemonade Springs , 3).
Throughout his life and work, Stegner remained keenly aware of
how the West had come to depend upon the boomer mentality. In the
early days of settlement, it was a mindset that herded Indians
onto their reservations, then repeatedly shrunk the borders. In
the federal reclamation projects, boomers oversaw the radical conversion
of prairie to potatoes, of rivers to reservoirs, all at public
expense. In the mining regions, boomers literally moved mountains.
And the West became ever more wedded to subsidized models of extraction.
That the ecological results were often catastrophic was a fact
that enraged Stegner and ruled much of his later work -- both his
writing and his political activism. But there was a quieter strain,
too, to Stegner's fascination with the Bo Masons of the West, and
it led him to a useful observation about the strident opposition
One of the things that marks people like that, it seems to me,
is an unwillingness to accept or understand change, and also
an unwillingness to understand or accept the responsibilities
that go with the change. One of the nicest things about American
independence, which was born of free land . . . is that you can
tell the world to kiss your behind and go off. That is freedom;
it is also irresponsibility, social irresponsibility. When the
world tightens around you and you can't do that anymore, it probably
means... unhappiness for people of that stamp ( Stegner:
Conversations on History and Literature , 49).
Stegner was also both an observer and a
prophet of change in the American West. Perhaps more than any
other writer, he understood the pace and nature of the transformations
that swept this region during the last century. He observed that
the West “changes faster” than
most places, and he characterized the changes as “the warping influence
of great in-migration, uninterrupted boom, and unremitting technological
tinkering” ( The Sound of Mountain Water , 10). In the
midst of it all, he issued a series of warnings, and some of his
conclusions leaned toward a pessimistic vision of the future, but
in the end, Stegner held out great hope:
The West is still nascent, still forming, and that is where much
of its excitement comes from. It has a shine on it. Despite its
mistakes, it isn't tired. Even the dubious achievements of the
boomers and the raiders reflect an energy that doesn't know what
it means to be licked or to give up. The face of the West changes:
a decade is much, and the last decade has brought more change and
more stress then any since the beginning (The Sound of Mountain
Water , 37).
In his most famous and oft-quoted passage, Stegner remarked,
Angry as one may be at what careless people have done and still
do to a noble habitat, it is hard to be pessimistic about the West.
This is the native home of hope. When it finally learns that cooperation,
not rugged individualism, is the pattern that most characterizes
and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived
its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match
its scenery ( The Sound of Mountain Water , 38).
Perhaps a conservationist future for the
American West lies not in banishing the boomer but in healing
the marriage between the boomer and the nester. The boomer is,
after all, the force of enterprise -- the bold mover and shaker,
the rain-maker, the one who “doesn't
know what it means to be licked or to give up.” The nester is the
steward, the home-maker and garden-tender, the quiet force who
builds without destroying, and wants to stay without soiling the
Karl Stauber, in “ Why
Invest in Rural America—And How? A Critical Public Policy Question
for the 21st Century ” points out that
- Communities and firms without competitive
advantage will not prosper—they lapse into decline or subsistence.
- Nations, communities,
and firms that prosper constantly invest in creating new competitive
advantage rather than protecting old advantage. Risk-taking
entrepreneurs are one of the keys to the continual seeking.
improvement and growth alone are not enough to sustain communities.
They are necessary, but not sufficient. Communities that survive
and prosper also invest in building the social and human capital
of their institutions and people. But communities with high social
and human capital and declining economic opportunity are not
likely to have positive futures (43–44).
Stauber identifies four public outcomes to pursue in order to
reduce concentrated rural poverty, promote the survival of the
rural middle class, and sustain and improve the quality of the
natural environment. They are:
- Increased human capital;
- Conservation of the natural environment
- Increased regional competitive investments; and
in infrastructure that support the expansion of newer competitive
advantage, not the protection of older competitive advantage
In this contest, we're looking for imaginative essays that demonstrate,
in real-world terms, the reconciliation of the boomer and the nester.
Where do we find such reconciliation? What shapes does it take,
and what kind of work does it provide? What hope would a reconciliation
between the boomer and the nester hold for the future of the American
Gallatin Writers and FREE invite essay submissions
from college and high school students. Prizes of $1000, $750, and
$500 will be awarded to the top three essays from each group. Winning
submissions will not be longer than 2000 words. We encourage the
use of your original term papers if appropriate. References are
desired but not required. Email entries to email@example.com
as an attached Microsoft Word-readable file.
The deadline for submissions is April 30, 2004,
for university students and May 28 for advanced high school students.
Please include your name, educational institution, department or
major field of study (for college students), and a phone number
where you can be reached.
Stauber, Karl. “Why Invest in Rural America—And How? A Critical
Public Policy Question for the 21st Century,” paper delivered at
the Center for the Study of Rural America's conference, Exploring
Policy Options for a New Rural America, June 2001 .
Angle of Repose , 1971
The Big Rock Candy Mountain , 1943
The Sound of Mountain Water , 1969
Stegner: Conversations on History and Literature , with
Richard Etulain, 1996
Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and
Writing in the West , 1992
Presenting the winners of the 2004 Wallace Stegner Essay Contest
Click on the names to read each essay.
Brandon R. Schrand, University of Idaho, Creative Non-Fiction
Pete Gomben, Utah State University, Environment and Society
Patrick J. DelHomme, University of Montana, Environmental Studies
Stegner Essay Contest and winning essays