Giving Thanks for Our Public Lands

I’m thankful for my community amongst the mountains of Montana

By Peter Aengst

My family and I have a holiday tradition, not unique to many Montanans. We cook Thanksgiving dinner early, pack it in Tupperware containers, and spend the long weekend with family and friends at a local Forest Service cabin. Some years we ski, some years we walk, on the rare occasion we drive. In the past we’ve packed my now 8-year-old son in on our backs or pulled him in a sled. It’s a chance to put down our computers, our phones, our busy schedules. It gives us a moment to reflect on what we are thankful for.

This year, I’m thankful for my community amongst the mountains of Montana. I’m thankful for kind neighbors. I’m thankful for a shared love of our public lands and waters.

In the weeks post election, many who appreciate and care for our public lands are nursing burgeoning ulcers over what the new administration in Washington, D.C. might mean for our way of life here in the West. Many things changed on Nov. 9, but some things haven’t. Our broad, bipartisan support of our public lands will only continue to grow regardless of which politicians are in power. The Wilderness Society has always taken the long view. Our goal – now more than ever – is to maintain the integrity of our shared public lands and waters.

This is not a time to mourn for what we do not have, or to walk away because the challenge seems too great, the odds stacked against us. Independent of who is in charge in Washington D.C., we have seen the greatest successes in Montana conservation over recent decades when diverse interests came together and focused on what we have in common, instead of what we don’t.

Places like the Rocky Mountain Front, the North Fork of the Flathead, the Blackfoot Valley and the Kootenai are recent case studies of Montanans coming together and doing what is best for Montana’s public lands, instead of what is best for partisan politics.

Montana is a place where all people are equal on our public lands. We all have the same ability to shoot an elk, catch a trout on a fly, climb a peak or camp under the recent supermoon.  We all have the ability to shape and decide how our public lands are managed, which is one of the greatest expressions of our democracy.

People from different walks of life are coming together to chart a future for our shared public lands right now across Montana. Vital wildlife habitat and storied places like Monture Creek on the Lolo National Forest where diverse interests have crafted the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship proposal. Or Nevada Mountain at the southern tip of the Crown of the Continent, which is in the midst of a travel plan revision on the Helena National Forest. In Bozeman, the wild backyard of the Gallatin Range is currently part of the first forest plan revision for the Custer-Gallatin National Forest in over 30 years.

Instead of lamenting over what “could” happen or fretting over the worst case scenarios for the next four years, we are focusing our energy and passion on where we have always found strength, solutions and common ground: our neighbors, our friends, our fellow recreationists and public land users. Here we will find and cultivate what brought us all together under the Big Sky: a vibrant love of place. Here we will call upon our best strengths to bring citizens together to stand up for our public lands and against damaging proposals that might be coming. And for this, I am thankful.

Peter Aengst is the regional director at The Wilderness Society for the Northern Rockies and Alaska.

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