This evening I got into a “discussion” with someone about the grizzly bears around Missoula. My original comments questioned how many grizzlies we need. No one answered that, but they did get down on me for not being environmentally-friendly or understanding what voters in Missoula care about.
Montana Grizzlies and the USFWS
I sorted and counted those public comments, filed them, and made copies of them. Then I sent them off to the lawyers. No one in our office read a single one but me, the file clerk.
Where were those letters coming from? Well back then we had a lot of stuff on wolves, the lynx, and some stuff on grizzlies. Many did come from Montana, but the vast majority came from out of state. Many came from overseas. All fodder for the lawyers – biologists never looked at them.
Public comments are great, they make people feel good and give them the sense they’re making a difference. Well, they made a difference in my life because they gave me something to do for 4 hours a day in the afternoon. Got paid pretty good for it, too.
Winning the Battle, Losing the War
Sure, but I think most clear-headed and pragmatic folks will realize I’m trying to understand these issues and come to common-sense solutions that will benefit all Montanans, not just some small pocket in Missoula.
If we continue to think of ourselves as little pockets of resistance here and there, little communities of like-minded individuals, that by golly might feel real good but don’t get a lot done – that’s great, except Montana will continue moving down in quality of life.
If we instead begin to view our problems not just as small issues facing these disparate groups, but as larger issues that affect us all, well, maybe we’ll finally begin to gain some ground against this pernicious pessimism that hovers over the state today.
What’s important to the people of Missoula is so not important to most people in the other 55 counties of this state. This issue we were debating tonight is the most important thing to some people, but not even an afterthought to others. To many grizzly bears are pristine creatures that need to be protected, while to others they’re nothing more than nuisances that need to be shot.
Missoula’s Lack of Concern for Montana
For instance, I’m sure most environmentally-minded folk would love for the sage grouse in eastern Montana to be protected, but I doubt most of them have much information on it. For families in eastern Montana, a protected sage grouse could cost them their house.
We don’t often think of that, do we? Well, I guess that would force us to think about someone other than ourselves for a change, and no one really wants to do that.
I’ve been saying it online for months, and I’ll continue to say it because I’m a realist and I like to see things how they are, not how I want them to be (how else could I make them how I wanted to be if I was viewing lies?) and I’ll say it again: the democrats are not going to control that Montana legislature next January. It will be the Republicans, many of them with strong Tea Party allegiances.
Do you think those folks really give a damn about grizzlies around Missoula, or even more important issues like the fate of our water, our flagging university enrollment, or the myriad dilemmas that come with a small town trying to combat big city problems?
And do you think they’re going to care if the delegation from Missoula is constantly harping about the environment? It’d be a shut-out.
Half is Better Than Nothing
I like grizzlies, not personally, and I wouldn’t want to run into one, but a lot of people don’t. Many of those people work for businesses that don’t want to do business here because of the liabilities they could face.
Many of those liabilities could spring from our environmental policies. And I have a feeling far fewer people are going to like grizzlies when they’re rushing into more and more communities as their forest homes are being eaten by wildfires. Where will the grizzlies live then, in Washington-Grizzly Stadium?
If we want a strong environmental legacy in this state, one based on creating and not destroying, we have to meet people halfway on issues that are often the most important to us. When you’re in the minority, this is what you do. I sure hope some of the republicans will have similar attitudes – they don’t have to, they don’t have to agree with anyone.
We saw last session how much that helped us in Missoula. Let’s not make that mistake again, and let’s head into Helena with an open mind and a willingness to put what we care about on the table so they do so as well. It’s the only way this state can move forward.