BMWF Announces Annual Wilderness Speaker Series

The 2024 lineup includes featured talks on forest fire lookouts, the changing world of bear management and an artists-in-residence panel

By Micah Drew
Tim Manley, Grizzly Bear Management Specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, stands beside bear traps in storage at Region 1 Headquarters in Kalispell on Feb. 26, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

This winter and spring local wilderness organizations are partnering to host the 14th annual Wilderness Speaker Series at Flathead Valley Community College. The series brings timely and interesting wilderness topics to the public and is presented by the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, the Flathead-Kootenai Chapter of Wild Montana, the Northwest Montana Forest Fire Lookout Association, and the Natural Resources Conservation Management Program at Flathead Valley Community College.

The series will kick off on Feb. 21 with Mark Hufstetler, a local historian and long-time forest fire lookout. Hufstetler spends his summers at the Baptiste Lookout on the Flathead National Forest and will share his personal perspective watching for new wildfire starts and take a look at the lives of men and women who have staffed lookout towers over the generations.

Cyclone Lookout in the North Fork. Beacon file photo

During the height of the Great Depression, thousands of fire lookouts — the name for both the iconic towers and the souls staffing them — watched over the forested landscapes of the western United States. Lookouts achieved literary notoriety through the works of Jack Kerouac, Norman Maclean and Edward Abbey, who all worked as fire lookouts and wrote about their experiences. Though the number of active lookouts has dwindled, the job description has remained mostly unchanged over the decades.

In March, bears will take center stage with retired Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear management specialist Tim Manley giving a talk. For three decades, Manley resolved conflicts between grizzly bears and people in northwest Montana by forging relationships with landowners and educating locals on the iconic megafauna to change perceptions about grizzlies. In his wilderness series talk, Manley will talk about how new technology, equipment and techniques are revolutionizing how wildlife managers map grizzly habitat and mitigate human conflicts.

The final session of the series will focus on the connection between art and wilderness. For 20 years, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, the Flathead National Forest, Swan Valley Connections and the Hockaday Museum of Art have hosted an Artists Wilderness Connection (AWC) residency. The AWC is a collaborative artist-in-residence program that selects working artists from various mediums and disciplines to spend up to two weeks living off the grid in Montana’s largest wilderness areas.

In the past, the residency has included painters, muralists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers and more. A panel of former artists will talk about how their time in the wilderness affected their artistic inclinations and share the stories behind some of their work.

The Wilderness Speaker Series is held in the Large Community Room (#139) at FVCC’s Art and Technology Building from 7-8:15 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month. There is no charge for the community events and all are welcome to join the discussion. To learn more about the Wilderness Speaker Series, visit bmwf.org/wss