July 2019 - Wild Montana Skies

Jul 28, 2019
Captain's Log Starship 1XE, Day 13 in the month July, Earth Calendar year 2019.

He was born in the Bitterroot Valley in the early morning rain
Wild geese over the water heading north and home again
Bringing a warm wind from the south
Bringing the first taste of the spring
His mother took him to her breast and softly she did sing
Oh Montana, give this child a home
Give him the love of a good family and a woman of his own
Give him a fire in his heart, give him a light in his eyes
Give him the wild wind for a brother and the willllllld Montana skies
This was a song John Denver wrote after visiting Montana. He and I spent many a wonderful day up there in "the last best place" sharing conservation victories like stopping The New World Mine outside Yellowstone (https://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/13/us/clinton-unveils-plan-to-halt-gold-mine-near-yellowstone.html) and fishing the many creeks and streams that make Montana one of our most iconic and least populated western states. Montana stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, with an incredible array of diverse wild lands and terrain, , traversed in the legendary Lewis and Clark expeditions in 1805.
Cabinet Mountains
John wrote Wild Montana Skies after repeated trips up to Montana on Starship 1XE,, inspired by conservation flying. Invariably when I am interviewed by the press while flying in Montana, I let them know how special their landscape is and what a unique opportunity to frame the future for conservation by proactively managing land for public use, rather than constantly trying to reinvent the wheel or retroactively making additions or subtractions to existing laws and regulations, as is common in much of the West these days.
Most recently I escaped the late spring/early summer snowstorms of Aspen and as the jet stream moved north and released its lengthy grip on Colorado, I followed it up north into the ensuing high pressure and began work in that last best place on a myriad of issues.
Covering this great state of Montana from the Canadian border down to Yellowstone, we continue our unique brand of conservation flying fully loaded with press, scientists, bipartisan policymakers, Native Americans and concerned citizens.
The issues run the gamut from wildlife to wildlands. Our first flights were over the wild Yaak forests west of Kalispell, where Rick Bass, famous author and activist, convened a weeklong media tour with press from around the nation focused the plight of the 25 remaining Grizz in this ecosystem, and the challenges posed by a proposed hiking trail and human interference. Bass highlighted an alternative route first pioneered by the famous bear biologist Chuck Jonkel. The bird's eye view gave the press a perspective that informed their stories, and showed that the alternate proposal made a lot of sense. The possibilities of ecotourism outposts and enhanced economic benefits to the small outlying towns of Libby and Troy gave it even more credit.
Then, off I flew south and east to Lewistown, to work with the American Prairie Reserve to showcase lands and recreational opportunities on the Missouri River near the Missouri Breaks. It was impressive to highlight the scope of this work and educate the public on new trails, hut systems, campgrounds and conservation accomplishments on the great grasslands of the American West.
Yaak Valley
Next on our weeklong flight plan we headed south, dodging around towering thunderstorms to the Blackfoot River of Robert Redford, River Runs Through It movie fame, and the town of Lincoln where county commissioners and ranchers and loggers and conservationists are working on a collaborative proposal that includes additions to the Scapegoat Wilderness and recreation and forest health projects. From the air it was obvious there were challenges but the conservation conversation in the cockpit was optimistic that they could be overcome.
Crazy Mountains
nd no trip to this state filled with island mountain ranges could be complete without avisit to the Crazies. The Crazy Mountains are located just to the east and north of Livingston, Montana, and have significant spiritual implications, as they are the ancestral home of the Crow Nation. Severe limitations from private homeowners moving into the region have restricted access to many public lands in this small wildlife mountain oasis jutting out of the plains. Flights gave the Crow Nation, ranchers and other concerned citizens an objective platform to have a voice to advocate for protections of cultural resources through the Custer Gallatin National Forest planning process. Our aerial videos and images provide the press with additional tools to convey this story about the checkerboard landscape, the thorny disputes over public access, and how critical this range is for wildlife connectivity on the Rocky Mountain Front, and the historical, cultural and spiritual significance these mountains hold for the Crow.
Heading home from this last best place we followed the eastern flank of Yellowstone and the Absaroka Mountain range, over the swollen rivers of the Little Snake and Yampa on the border of Wyoming and back to a lush Colorado, which has finally turned to summer.
Bruce Gordon