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map by mike reagan

set of spares I can strap on the front of the backhoe bucket to lift those bales.” The Crary ranch where all this business was going on had been bought by Dusty’s greatgrandfather, a dentist by training, back in 1930. “All he wanted to do was come out to Montana and be a cowboy and hunt and have a ranch,” Crary told me. “So here they lit. But instead of ranching he hung up his shingle and started pulling teeth.” His wife opened the first theater in Choteau. For silent movies, she provided the piano sound track. Dusty Crary was born in 1960. “My sister and I are the first in the family actually born and raised on the ranch,” he said, “so I guess we’re kind of bastard fourthgeneration.” These distinctions matter in Choteau society. “If you’re pre-1900, like the Yeagers,” he said, “that’s a little different, and rightfully so. Those guys had a lot of pride, they came here when it was really tough, and they started from scratch.” Dusty’s father and Harold Yeager had been “good acquaintances,” he went on, until Doug Crary was slammed against a fence and crushed to death by an angry bull in 1996. After that, the growing dispute over oil and gas and wilderness and wildlife put a strain on relations between the two families—although neighbors are still neighbors, and Yeager’s son, Lane, still helps out sometimes with haying on the Crary ranch. This kind of local intimacy and shared history, a desire not to do your neighbors harm even when you are at bitter odds, turned out to be a defining aspect of the work that Sentz and Crary have done since 2006. Their goal at that point was to craft a piece of legislation, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, that would permanently preserve as much of the Front as possible—to the degree such things can ever be permanent. Again, Baucus would be the lead sponsor. This surprised a good number of people in Montana, given the senator’s reputation as a staunch defender of agricultural interests. “But I think he also really likes wild country,” Sentz said. “He’s been out here quite a bit, he’s climbed these mountains, he’s hiked in the Bob Marshall and in Glacier.” (And, he might have added, Baucus was only being faithful to the Montana Constitution, which guarantees its citizens “the right to a clean and healthful environment.”) In late November, just before I got to Choteau, Baucus’s bill sailed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee without dissent. It annexed 67,000 acres to the Bob and designated another 208,000 as a “conservation management area” open to a limited amount of recreation, motorized use, and grazing. This new protected acreage hadn’t been designed by folks in faraway offices

studying GIS imagery, Crary said, but by people sitting around kitchen tables, much as we were doing now, and thrashing it out, acre by acre, drainage by drainage, ranch by ranch, based on an intimate knowledge of the terrain and those who lived there. “We fought and argued with each other for three years until we finally came up with what we did,” he said. “And the thing I’m most proud of is that virtually everybody who started stayed. We had some core principles from the get-go, and one was that this couldn’t disrupt anyone’s livelihood or way of life. It was never, well, if one guy gets bulldozed that’s for the greater good, and those are the casualties of war, you know?” Even so, there were those like Harold Yeager who made no secret of their distaste for the bill. Crary looked pained. “You agree to disagree,” he said. “It’s not for me to judge what someone else gets in spirituality from wild country. No one side is holier than the other. Humans are what humans are, on all sides of the spectrum, and I’ve never yet not learned more and tuned my perspective by listening to people who are polar different than me.” Did that apply even to fossil fuel development? I asked. He thought about it. “Harold and Dan,” he said, “I respect their opinions, and I don’t think they’re crazy for wanting oil and gas. I mean, I drive diesel pickups and diesel tractors. But what frightens me is what oil and gas do to these towns, the landscape alteration.” I said that Yeager and Lindseth seemed to worry about that, too, that they’d talked about the havoc the oil and gas boom had inflicted on the Bakken—the man camps, the sexual assaults, the crystal meth, the methane flares lighting up the night sky, the one-bedroom apartments renting for $2,000 a month. Yeager had described boomtowns like Sidney in eastern Montana as a “cesspool” and said that Choteau wanted no part of it. The town would put the brakes on before that ever happened, Lindseth had added. Crary shook his head. “I’m sure Harold and Dan don’t want all that to happen, but it won’t be up to them,” he said. “There’s nothing like the raw power of petroleum, and these things get out of control real fast.”


arly next day, I went to Browning to meet

Lori New Breast, an outspoken opponent of fracking on the Blackfeet Reservation, and Jeri Lawrence, the tribe’s leading advocate of wind power and until two years ago head of the Blackfeet Renewable Energy Program. The highway edged closer to the Front as I drove north, slicing across the Badger–Two Medicine SPRING 2 0 1 4

onearth 4 7

OnEarth Spring 2014  

Hog Wild, by Ted Genoways

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