THE WAVE OF
In 1899, President William McKinley placed the land that buffered Yellowstone National Park and was adjacent to what became the Sargent Ranch into the national forest reserve system — seventeen years after the park was created. Interestingly, a distant relative of Len’s — Nathaniel P. Langford — was appointed the park’s first superintendent. The authority to create forest reserves, such as this one, was founded in an act lobbied through Congress by progressive environmental pioneers including Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, and Gifford Pinchot.
During Theodore Roosevelt’s (TR) presidency our nation was effectively introduced to the conservation idea and endowed with a 230 million-acre public land estate to give forestry and wildlife restoration hope. TR’s boldness kept our national forests out of the hands of 20th century robber barons and Grinnell’s advocacy gave us Glacier National Park. After TR left the White House in 1910, his successor William Taft fired Gifford Pinchot as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Congress cut the fledgling agency’s budget. Chanting “not one cent for scenery,” conservative western Congressmen of that era, like Idaho’s Weldon Heyburn and Montana’s William Clark, set out to fiscally starve the young idealistic agency.
A century later, we live with both custodial and regulatory agencies so badly compromised by political expedience they have become dysfunctional. One recently retired USFS chief cared enough to write it down, saying straight out, “And so the corruption of principle and idealism continues, and it comes not in great confrontations but little by little by little.” The “corruption of principle” is ubiquitous and while the hypocrites who call themselves conservative shriek “Drill baby drill,” they wither and compromise the regulators, the Gulf of Mexico turns toxic, and the planet cooks.
The absolute beauty of our democracy lies in the reality that the people who “get it” respond. The Missouri River qualified as a national monument because Montana people said no to a pork barrel proposal to build two more dams there in the 1960s. The Yellowstone River remains dam free because the people said we will not be the national boiler room in the 1970s. The Rocky Mountain Front and wild lands to the west remain whole because the oil and gas industry was told that Montana people valued their beauty and wildness more. Throughout Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem stories abound of successful community efforts to preserve and protect our natural heritage.