By Kyra Searcy
The opportunity to explore land use and perspectives in Montana through GLI happened to be through the intensive field course which gave me a minor in Wilderness Studies. This course occurred primarily during fall 2017 in the form of field trips between 1 and 10 days long, with a winter session art class, as well as an internship in a local water education organization, lecture series, and 4 day river course on the upper Missouri in the spring of 2018. This section of river is designated as wild and scenic, which nicely tied up the loose ends in understanding how land agencies manage across ownerships and policy changes. Throughout the year, our group was asked what we wanted to learn, and my classes were formed around those areas of focus. It gave us the chance to truly dive into things we cared about and ignore topics which we have already covered in other classes.
My global theme is Natural Resources and Sustainability. The challenge was looking at resource management across land ownership in culturally rich places within Montana. Through my fall semester classes I was able to study these connections between historical land use to modern day land use through the lenses of ecology, policy, literature, art and discussion with leaders. We had amazing guest lecturers as well as professors who were experts in their fields. When we weren’t on campus, we traveled to a mine in Libby, a restoration site in the Mission Mountains Wilderness, a working ranch with conservation easements in Square Butte, the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Study Area, the Yaak Valley Forest Council, a working homestead, and the CSKT Government. They worked to connect the dots between disciplines so that we were able to address large multifaceted issues that land managers face today in Montana.
One of the most interesting and important perspectives that we looked at while on our field studies were those of Native People in Montana. Tribes have a deep understanding of the ecology and history of the lands that white settlers such as myself have only the slightest knowledge of. These traditional and ecological understandings of place have informed my own value of establishing yourself in a location and truly learning about it before making decisions that will affect it. We live in an age where communication across a nation can happen in minutes, and a decision that is made in a faraway capital can in turn influence other nations decisions on land management. Because these discussions can happen so quickly between people very far away, place-based decision making can sometimes be less informed and more catered towards whatever interests’ get the ear of a politician. I never knew how difficult it is to lobby for an endangered species or to change policy in the Forest Service Manual. These changes are slow, while decisions higher up can happen quickly and completely alter the future of a place. My classmates and I felt strongly about supporting indigenous communities so we attended the Rally for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante Monuments in protest of President Trump’s decision to minimize and remove protections. After learning about large societal issues we wanted to actually act on one. This was one of the most powerful moments of my beyond the classroom experience by far. To be in the presence of various Tribal Elders coming together for the first time to protest the continuous neglect and assault of corporate and governmental interests on their sacred lands was something I will never forget. While we focused on small communities of native tribes, loggers, ranchers, miners, and wilderness rangers in Montana, I was simultaneously thinking about small groups across the world struggling to make decisions that benefit their local community while also benefiting the global one. I found it ironic that in an age of increased access to communication, we aren’t getting the word out about some of the issues in the wildest of habitats in Montana. It made me want to focus more on collaboration between agencies, organizations, local people and foundations which have ties to politics. We were able to see some collaborative groups and understand their struggles and triumphs which seemed really optimistic in the current political climate for land management. The most valuable thing that we can do in a time as tricky as this is to work together and draw upon our diversity of perspectives and understanding to make decisions that influence a generation of land stewards who are connected to the land and confident on their role in it. I am truly grateful to take all of these points with me into my career as a Conservationist.