on the rez The poverty rate among Montana’s Blackfeet is more than double the statewide average.
ther owned the Pioneer Bar in Choteau, started working to protect the Front back in 1977, he told me as we sat at his kitchen table eating our way through a plate of Linda’s homemade cookies. The Forest Service and the BLM were gung ho about developing public lands in those days, he said, and by the early 1980s the oil companies were lined up to do seismic studies of the 1.5 million-acre Bob Marshall, which is often described as the crown jewel of the American wilderness system. “We called that ‘Bomb the Bob,’” Sentz said. He and Jacobs were the core of a loose-knit group that called itself the Friends of the Rocky Mountain Front. “We’d get together and raise hell and write lots of letters,” Sentz said, and in the end they succeeded in keeping the drillers out of the Bob. But pretty much everything else along the Front was leased, including parts of the Badger-Two Medicine area, a wild and spectacular piece of land that is hedged in between the Continental Divide, Glacier National Park, and the Blackfeet Reservation. The little group’s efforts proceeded in peaks and dips that tracked the ups and downs of the oil industry until the mid-1990s, when the Forest Service appointed a new supervisor in its Great Falls, Montana, office. Her name was Gloria Flora, and she was a transformative figure, raising the fight over the Rocky Mountain Front to national prominence. “We didn’t know what to make of her at first,” Sentz said. “We were all saying, wonder who this lady is, she’s a landscape architect, and what do they know about these things? But of course she was the best thing that ever happened to us.” In 1997 Flora placed 350,000 acres of public land along the Front off-limits to development for a decade. The reaction of those who wanted to drill and mine and log public lands has been compared to the response of southerners to civil rights workers in
the 1960s. The following year, the Forest Service reassigned Flora to a backwater posting in Nevada, where she lasted only a few months before resigning in protest at what she considered the agency’s spinelessness. After that, she became an outspoken critic of the drill-baby-drill policies of the Bush-Cheney administration. But would 350,000 acres be enough? That, Sentz said, fastforwarding, brought us up to 2006, by which time the original nucleus of friends had thrown in with a number of state and national groups to form the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front. At the end of that year, Montana’s Democratic senator, Max Baucus, steered a bill through Congress that barred all new oil, gas, and mineral development on public lands along the Front. Even so, there was little that could be done to protect private land. “Landowners out here on the flats can lease anything they want, and most of them have,” Sentz said. These were your neighbors, it was a fact of life, and you had to accept it.
t this point in his story, there was a clatteriNG
and banging at the door, and a man in a cowboy hat came into the kitchen, stamping snow off his boots. “Dusty,” Sentz said, “you got here right on time. I was just getting to your part.” Dusty Crary removed his coat and hat, accepted a cup of coffee from Linda, declined a chaser of Yukon Jack whiskey, and pulled up a chair. “Did you get your machinery fixed?” Sentz asked him. “Nah, it’s all tore up,” Crary answered. “But I got my pickup going.” “Are they still working on your tractor?” “Oh, he had to go get some parts.” “Oh, gosh. Well, did you get your critters fed?” “Yeah, what I needed to. I got my backhoe going, and I got a SPRING 2 0 1 4
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