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MOUNTAIN

SUMMER 2020

HUNT FOR ARGENTINA’S

GOLDEN DORADO

COVID-19:

DAVID QUAMMEN WEIGHS IN

FEATURED OUTLAW: FLINT RASMUSSEN FAKE BEEF IN CATTLE COUNTRY

CAMPING CUISINE:

RECIPES FROM THE CAMPFIRE

EXPLORE

YELLOWSTONE BIG SKY | BOZEMAN | JACKSON


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Gateway at Moonlight Basin


Inspiration Point at Spanish Peaks Mountain Club


WE ARE HERE TO CARE FOR YOU Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center began its phased re-opening May 4, 2020. Proper precautions are in place to help keep you safe. For more information on what you can expect, visit BozemanHealth.org.

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Big Sky Medical Center Family Medicine is available to address your healthcare needs. Call with questions or to schedule a telehealth or in-person visit.

The VTC at Big Sky Medical Center is open for individuals with respiratory and/or viral symptoms who need to be evaluated and treated, including those who may be or are COVID-19 positive.

For family medicine call 406-995-6995

*All necessary precautions are taken to safely care for patients. VTCs are specifically designed to care for just those patients with respiratory symptoms in areas separate from other patients needing care.

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I n s p ir ed b y Plac e Architecture

Interior Design

P h o t o g r ap h e r : Ma t t h e w M i l l ma n

jackson,wy bozeman,mt clbarchitects.com

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FAKE BEEF IN CATTLE COUNTRY By Todd Wilkinson

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME By Steven Hawley

Americans are spending $1.4 billion a year on fake meat. It’s a small fraction of the food industry, but it’s a growing trend and some believe it could have major impact on food standards in developing countries. Todd Wilkinson digs in to see if Montana’s buying Fake Beef in Cattle Country.

Eric Stevens is fighting for his life. For Eric, his wife Amanda and all of Stevens Nation, Lou Gehrig’s disease is leaving destruction in its wake. But this is not a tale of tragedy. This is a love story. For the Love of the Game, Eric, Amanda and the Nation talk to Steven Hawley about a message of hope worth fighting for.

Backyard canvas in Gallatin Valley: a sunset paints the clouds a dramatic rosé, emerging between the nearly full moon, green grass and snowcapped peaks below.  PHOTO BY MEGAN PAULSON

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Q&A: DAVID QUAMMEN PONDERING THE ‘NEXT BIG ONE’ By Todd Wilkinson

A FISH STORY By Eric Ladd

In 2012, Bozeman writer David Quammen’s book Spillover served as a harbinger for today’s COVID-19 pandemic. Should we have been prepared for the novel coronavirus? In Pondering the ‘Next Big One,’ Quammen talks viruses, what matters in Greater Yellowstone, and how sciatica keeps him up at night.

Pack your 8-weight fly rod and a hearty sense of adventure for a trip to northern Argentina’s Iberá wetlands. Down here, hunting the elusive golden dorado, you’ll find camaraderie, a rich culture and monster fish upwards of 20 pounds. And boy, do they put up a fight. Settle in for an epic Fish Story.

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DEPARTMENTS TRAILHEAD 22 CAUSE: First Descents tackles cancer 22 RECORD: Lil Smokies’ new album Tornillo 23 REEL: Fuel, Fire and Wild Horses: A fresh approach to wildfire 23 READ: Billionaire Wilderness eyes wealth inequality in the West 24 VISIT: The Izaak Walton Inn celebrates 80 years

OUTBOUND GALLERY 26 Connection Project: Windows to the soul

NOW 36 46 50 56

How Montana sees the fake meat trend Eagle Mount camps look out for the kids Western states seek safe passage for wildlife One family’s fight for life against ALS REPORTS 64 The decades-long debate on Snake River’s dams

EXPLORE YELLOWSTONE 82 YNP’s Cam Sholly talks park challenges 88 Wallace Stegner in photos 93 How bison are positively affecting land 94 Pro tips for viewing wildlife 96 Yellowstone’s raptor migration 98 Guide to fishing in the park 100 First time: A writer experiences YNP 102 Getting off the beaten path 104 Recipes: Campfire cuisine for the (sorta) outdoorsperson

CULTURE 112 Dart Toss: The power of empathy in Fort Belknap 116 David Quammen talks COVID-19, Yellowstone and quarantine habits 124 Inside the Big Burn 110 years later 130 A mystery: Searching for Bigfoot TALES 137 To wake in a postcard on Fossil Lake 139 A Yellowstone gateway town resident reflects on tourism 142 Cuba and Montana: Making music across cultures

ADVENTURE 150 A fish story: Hunting the intrepid golden dorado 162 One family grows together in Idaho’s high peaks

FEATURED OUTLAW 170 Flint Rasmussen is taking PBR by storm

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Wildlife viewing and photography aren’t always all-day excursions. One morning I came upon this cinnamon colored black bear in Big Sky, Montana. I was lucky enough to snap a couple photos as we checked each other out before I moved along to let him continue his day. PHOTO BY DAVE PECUNIES

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MOUNTAIN Owned and published in Big Sky, Montana. PUBLISHER Eric Ladd

LEAD DESIGNER – MEDIA Kelsey Dzintars

EDITORIAL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, VP MEDIA Joseph T. O’Connor DEPUTY EDITOR Bella Butler ASSOCIATE EDITOR, DISTRIBUTION DIRECTOR Brandon Walker ASSISTANT EDITOR Mira Brody DIRECTOR OF NEW MEDIA, DIGITAL EDITOR Michael Somerby SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT, DISTRIBUTION COORDINATOR Kirby Grubaugh

Investing in future generations. Scattered along Montana’s treasured rivers are 10 hydroelectric dams generating power for the state, just like they have for more than 100 years. Today, nearly 40% of the power provided to customers comes from this vast hydro system. As the owners, operators and caretakers, NorthWestern Energy also manages the upkeep and upgrade of these historic facilities, ensuring they continue to provide clean, renewable energy for generations of customers yet to come.

CREATIVE ART DIRECTOR Marisa Opheim

GRAPHIC DESIGNER ME Brown SALES AND OPERATIONS CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER Megan Paulson VP SALES AND MARKETING E.J. Daws VP EVENTS Ennion Williams MEDIA AND EVENTS DIRECTOR Ersin Ozer BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT LEAD Sam Brooks CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER Blythe Beaubien CONTROLLER Treston Wold

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS/EDITORS Tyler Allen, Bailey J. Beltramo, Claire Cella, Jodi Hausen, Steven Hawley, Brigid Mander, Scott Mechura, Holly Priestley, Kene Sperry, Ednor Therriault, Daria Uporsky, Todd Wilkinson, Mark Wilcox, Emily Stifler Wolfe CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS/ARTISTS Tayler Ashley, Jennings Barmore, Harrison Beckwith, Riley Brown, Zac Cain, Lynn Donaldson, Ronan Donovan, Jacob W. Frank, Isiah Gibson, Louis Hansel, Jodi Hausen, Greysen Johnson, Andrew Julian, Tom Koerner, Andrew McGranahan, Erika Peterman, David Paul Fulmer, Gabriel Priestley, Bill Reynolds, Micah Robin, Kene Sperry, Stijn Te Strake, Andy Watson, Mark Wilcox, Ryan Weaver Subscribe now at mtoutlaw.com/subscriptions. Mountain Outlaw magazine is distributed to subscribers in all 50 states, including contracted placement in resorts across the West. Core distribution in the Northern Rockies includes Big Sky and Bozeman, Montana, as well as Jackson, Wyoming, and the four corners of Yellowstone National Park. To advertise, contact Sam Brooks at sam@theoutlawpartners.com. OUTLAW PARTNERS & MOUNTAIN OUTLAW P.O. Box 160250, Big Sky, MT 59716 (406) 995-2055 • media@outlaw.partners © 2020 Mountain Outlaw Unauthorized reproduction prohibited CHECK OUT THESE OTHER OUTLAW PUBLICATIONS:

explorebigsky.com

see page 111 for all Outlaw Media

On the cover: Today was a good day. Jason Moore hoists the golden prize, a mammoth golden dorado, during a March fishing trip to the Iberá Wetlands in northern Argentina. PHOTO BY CAMERON SCOTT


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C O N T E N T B Y L O C AT I O N

FORT BELKNAP p. 112

WA S H I N G T O N ST. MARIES p. 124

MISSOULA p. 130

M O N TA N A

SNAKE RIVER p. 64 BUTTE p. 134

BOZEMAN p. 116, 122 GARDINER p. 139

NEW BRUNSWICK

FOSSIL LAKE (BEARTOOTH WILDERNESS) p. 137

BIG SKY p. 46

SAWTOOTH MOUNTAINS p. 162

IDAHO

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

p. 67

GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK

WYOMING

PINEDALE p. 50

ARGENTINA p. 150

F E AT U R E D CONTRIBUTORS

SANTIAGO DE CUBA p. 142

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DARIA UPORSKY (“At Home and Out of Place,” p. 139) is a professional writer and amateur nature photographer based in the foothills of Western North Carolina. She has been traveling to Montana for more than a decade, and now considers it her “home away from home.”

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HARRISON BECKWITH (“A Fish Story,” p. 150) is a full-time fly-fishing guide for Brookings Anglers in Cashiers, North Carolina, and hosts anglers in flyfishing destinations including Patagonia, the Bahamas and Northern Argentina. Harrison and friend Andrew Julian’s photography business, River Wizard Company, specializes in outdoor media for destination lodges, brands and magazines.


‘Only connect’ “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” – E.M. Forster, Howard’s End I’ve been through HBO’s The Wire. Twice now. We watched the latest season of Ozark. I revisited classic baseball playoff games and old favorites like Tom Hanks’s Big. Beginning last February, COVID-19 ushered in a long spell of isolation and, along with it, marathon TV bingeing. You remember. You were there. Maybe you still are. Before that we were free, right? We lived social media and technology, competition made our jobs more demanding and we could fly anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. We were globalized and connected, in a way. In a way, we were in a dead sprint, society showing cracks. The more we pushed technology the more distracted we became, constantly checking our phones, email, Instagram. We are now in need of a different form of connection: a human one. This yearThe novel coronavirus has flipped the world upside down. It’s leaving wreckage that continues splintering our health and safety and economy, reaching every corner of the world. It has turned Zoom meetings into a new version of socializing. It has locked us in our homes and lost the key.

F RO M T H E E D I T O R others emerged. Todd Wilkinson’s revealing interview with Bozeman writer David Quammen, “Pondering the ‘Next Big One’” (p. 116), was a singular result. And a timely one, considering Quammen’s book Spillover predicted this pandemic eight years ago. Another was Steven Hawley, who wrote a profound story about a bond stronger than affliction. In “For the Love of the Game” (p. 56), Hawley explores one family’s entrenched battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, but concludes that love, rising above any malady, will win out. E.M. Forster wrote Howard’s End in 1910, the same year the largest wildfire in U.S. history swept across the Northern Rockies. Jessianne Castle takes us on a harrowing journey back “Into the Big Burn” (p. 124), showing us how that great inferno brought us closer together. And M.O.’s founding editor Emily Stifler Wolfe shares her touching story, “Cubriendo la Brecha” (p. 142), about the collective power of music as artists from Montana and Cuba bridge a cultural gap to teach us about finding common ground. By the time photographer Kene Sperry submitted his “Connection Project” for the Outbound Gallery (p. 26), a stunning photo essay depicting how eyes are windows to the soul, the theme was cemented. We live in a surreal time. But we have received a gift—whether we recognize and use it is up to us. Even as we scramble to find a vaccine and try to piece together a fractured economy, we also have a chance to reset, reprioritize and reconnect. Joseph T. O’Connor Editor-in-Chief joe@theoutlawpartners.com

This edition of Mountain Outlaw shifted and changed as social distancing, event cancellations and shuttering businesses became that “new normal.” We added Explore Yellowstone magazine inside M.O. for a fresh, dynamic look. Some stories dropped off, while

JODI HAUSEN (“Blooming Trees,” p. 46) is a Bozeman-based freelance writer and photographer whose award-winning work has appeared in national and regional publications. She is working on several book projects, including one about people with so-called disabilities.

A writer from Hood River, Oregon, STEVEN HAWLEY’S work has appeared in The Drake, Fly Fisherman, Outside, and High Country News. With Director Michael Peterson, Hawley (“For the Love of the Game,” p. 56) produced the documentary film Dammed to Extinction. His book on rivers will be published by Patagonia Books in fall 2020.

BAILEY J. BELTRAMO (“The Man and the Mask,” p. 170) hails from rural New Hampshire and has spent the past three years exploring the West. He’s fascinated with ranching culture and the grandeur of wide-open spaces. As a storyteller, his work is inspired by illuminating hidden experiences in hopes of broadening others’ perspectives.

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TRAILHEAD CAUSE FIRST DESCENTS Montana native Brad Ludden became Nike’s first sponsored whitewater kayaker at 18. Perhaps a more notable accomplishment, though, was when Ludden started First Descents, a Denver-based organization that provides outdoor adventures to young adults whose lives have been impacted by cancer. When Ludden was 12, he watched his aunt battle breast cancer with little support. Inspired to help, he started volunteering at a local pediatric oncology program by teaching kayaking. The first time a kayaker successfully paddles a section of river that has never been done, it’s a first descent. Ludden’s aim with establishing First Descents was to emulate the transformative experience of a first descent for those who need it. According to the program’s 2018 annual report, 100 percent of participants shared an increased ability to cope with cancer and its effects.

First Descents participants hit the Clark Fork River in Tarkio, Montana, during a week-long whitewater kayaking program in 2019. PHOTO COURTESY OF FIRST DESCENTS

A testament to the power of adventure, First Descents has provided over 10,000 unique experiences and counting, and continues to innovate and advocate on behalf of young adults affected by cancer.

RECORD TORNILLO BY THE LIL SMOKIES

ALBUM ART BY ANDREW MCGRANAHAN

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Named for the Texas town where it was recorded, Tornillo is the expressive bluegrass that fans have come to expect from the Montana-based band Lil Smokies with a brand new flare. After touring their 2017 album Changing Shades, the quintet ducked into the residential recording studio Sonic Ranch and emerged with new songs and a revitalized sound. Throughout the album, lead singer Andy Dunnigan, who studied creative writing at the University of Montana, elevates the power of narrative in song. His physical and metaphorical descriptions of their Texas desert escape in the title track paired with the unique ensemble of piano, drums, horns and baritone guitar make for a soulful roots-style ballad to close the album. Here in Big Sky country, roots music and bluegrass are as strong an indication of summer as late sunsets and runoff— pick up Tornillo and embrace the season.


REEL FUEL, FIRE AND WILD HORSES

Micah Robin’s short film looks at the dynamic between wild horses, wildfires and the other inhabitants of northern California. PHOTOS BY MICAH ROBIN

In Micah Robin’s short film, Fuel, Fire and Wild Horses, two of the West’s most emblematic “wilds” come together for a compelling narrative about land management and coexistence. Wildfires have ravaged the western U.S. over the past few years, devastating communities and altering treasured landscapes. In Yreka, California, a naturalist rancher believes the wild horses he shares his home with could be the answer to wildfire abatement as they chew through fields of fuel. This fascinating short doc is the result of a small production team with small-town Montana roots. Robin and his brother Howie, the assistant cinematographer, grew up in Big Sky, Montana, and the wildfire shots were filmed by Chris Kamman, a Big Sky cinematographer and a mentor of Robin’s. The soundtrack features songs from Big Sky artists including the Dammit Lauren and the Well quartet and Ben Michel. Fuel, Fire and Wild Horses screened at various festivals in late 2019 and early 2020 and will be featured at the 2020 Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in Los Angeles, California, which was recently rescheduled for the fall.

Near Yreka, California, a wild horse takes a drink. Robin’s film examines the wild horses’ vegetation consumption as a form of wildfire abatement.

READ BILLIONAIRE WILDERNESS Teton County has among the greatest wealth inequalities in the nation. And for one Yale University sociologist with Wyoming roots, the area was an ideal location to examine economic disparity. In his book, Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West, Justin Farrell explores how an elite class fleeing to the Rockies is miraculously shaping the stoic landscape of the West, in more ways than one. In a narrative that marries conservation, economics and rural dynamics, Farrell’s look at Teton County, home to the resort community of Jackson Hole, generates a perspective for other emerging hot spots of wealth inequality across the West.

A distant view of the Tetons at sunrise, Grand Teton National Park, WY. GETTY IMAGES

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VISIT IZAAK WALTON INN, ESSEX, MONTANA

The Izaak Walton Inn, which is celebrating 80 years of business, offers unique accommodations. Among the choices are rooms in the historic lodge, repurposed rail cars and ski-in ski-out cabins. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE IZAAK WALTON INN

CLEAN.DRAIN.DRY. FOR A HEALTHY GALLATIN RIVER

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Neighboring Glacier National Park, Essex, Montana, is located at the intersection of modern outdoor recreation and classic northern Montana history. The Great Northern Railway was brought to life in the late 19th century by James J. Hill, “The Empire Builder,” a businessman and a dreamer who reveled in the construction of the railway that stretched from Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean. “Most men who have really lived have had, in some shape, their great adventure,” he said upon retirement. “This railway is mine.” The tracks reached Montana in 1887, and in 1939 the Izaak Walton Inn was built for servicemen to rest after crossing the Continental Divide on Marias Pass. The inn is named for the famed English author and angler, who is also honored by the nearby Izaak Walton Ranger Station. Today, the inn serves a global clientele of hikers, skiers and history buffs, and perhaps its most distinctive feature is that it’s accessible by train. Rent a car from the inn and spend a day in Glacier or head out on hiking and Nordic trails right from the property. Due to COVID-19, please check izaakwaltoninn.com for updates on opening and availability.

FUNDED BY:


bigskypbr.com


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before

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The Connection Project MOUNTAIN

PHOTOGRAPHING HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE,

I’ve learned that we all want three things without exception: to be heard, seen and loved. And the eyes connect us. I began this project in order to be more vulnerable and open to my subjects. The concept: a portrait series of two photographs, one before and one after making left eye-left eye contact for five minutes, uninterrupted. No words, no movement.


OUTBOUND

G A L L E RY

after

An opening and softness appears where one lets go and becomes fully present. It’s happened with each of the 30 subjects I’ve photographed for this project and reinforces how we are all connected. This project is particularly prescient as we navigate recent isolation, lack of physical contact and weigh the importance of connection related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re learning about what is important in life: relationships you have and cultivate. And we can create empathy and compassion by simply looking into each other’s eyes without distraction and letting the mind quiet itself. The eyes are the gateway to the soul. As a photographer, I see the soul as infinite. Try this with your loved ones, friends, even strangers to strengthen the relationships with yourself and those around you. – Kene Sperry M T O U T L AW. C O M / MOUNTAIN

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G A L L E RY before

When I reflect on those minutes, I’m reminded of letting all things around me fall away. The distractions, the noise, the people were silenced, and in their place came peace, acceptance of self and permission for you to truly see me.

after

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before

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before

before

after

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G A L L E RY

before

after

Sperry’s work illuminates our interconnectedness as humans, the contrast between somberness and joy. To be human is to connect. Our eyes are windows to our soul.

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before

It was a scary, exciting, sometimes uncomfortable but ultimately meaningful experience. Looking back at both photos, which look quite different, Kene managed to capture the ‘real me’ in such a raw, honest way.

before


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G A L L E RY

after

Try at home: ■■ Sit down comfortably, facing your partner. ■■ Set a timer for at least five minutes. ■■ Gaze into the left eye of your partner. You can blink at any point, it’s not a staring competition. ■■ If you get distracted, simply bring back your awareness to the eyes of your partner. ■■ After the experience is over, grab a piece of paper and draw/write about how you are feeling. ■■ Talk about the experience with your partner.

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Providing exceptional service to buyers & sellers of Big Sky properties for over 25 years. ©2020 Engel & Völkers. All rights reserved. Each brokerage independently owned and operated. All information provided is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. Engel & Völkers and its independent License Partners are Equal Opportunity Employers and fully support the principles of the Fair Housing Act.


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PHOTO BY LOUIS HANSEL

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OUTLOOK / P. 46

REPORTS / P. 64

Q&A / P. 116

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THE QUEST TO FIND

MORAL,

SPIRITUAL, ECOLOGICAL AND

NUTRITIOUS

MEANING I N A

BURGER THAT DOESN’T

MOO BY TODD WILKINSON

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ut here in the middle of American cowboy country, where people in pickup trucks wave howdy to each other on dirt roads, one of the province’s gastronomic delicacies is locally grown beef. I offer this as a declaration before vowing to commit an act some might consider cultural heresy. With one spark lighting the backyard propane grill, I eye a pair of bland, duncolored patties, extracting them from plastic packaging, then gently lay them on the broiler waiting for a familiar sizzle. I hear none. This is my introduction to the plant-based food product known as Beyond Meat, invented to be an alternative to burgers and steaks. Beyond Meat and its main rival, the aptly named Impossible Burger, are intended to let vegans, vegetarians and agnostic carnivores feast without incurring the guilt and shame associated with killing and consuming another mammal. They are marketed as healthier options, lower in fat and cholesterol, better for our hearts, minds and the planet. But are they? I stack two bloodless patties, “fully cooked” in about five minutes, inside a bun with lettuce, tomato and Dijon mustard. I close my eyes and take a bite while trying to make sense of that unfamiliar aroma. In Montana, Idaho and Wyoming—whose appellation is the “Cowboy State”—what are the upshots and downsides of communing with fake beef? Is it morally and ethically superior to consume plants that come directly out of the soil rather than pursuing nutrition, as our hunter and gatherer ancestors did, by eating other mammals that ate the plants first? Could we all, collectively, if we dropped meat from our diets, really make a dent in the atmospheric challenge of climate change by switching en masse to edibles that masquerade as something they are not? It’s amazing how damned complicated mindful eating can be, and how jarring the experience is when you think about it too much, elevating things we typically take for granted into the realm of serious existential questions. Wouldn’t it just be easier to embrace ignorance is bliss? But, it turns out, there’s a lot at stake. Choosing the putatively wrong food can be not only hazardous to your health; it can hurt the Wild West and cause a demotion in social standing down at the local food co-op. Further, in this new enlightened era of reflecting on how the old West came to be—at the expense of indigenous people who had their homelands, native food stores, and ways of life destroyed to make way for beef cows—there can be a discomforting, unsavory aftertaste that comes with facing reality, too.

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DO WE REALLY WANT TO BE EATING STUFF THAT REQUIRES A DEGREE IN BIOCHEMICAL ENGINEERING, RATHER THAN GRADUATION FROM A CULINARY INSTITUTE, TO KNOW WHAT’S IN IT?


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Just two evenings earlier, I started the first leg of a taste test at Sir Scott’s Oasis located in Manhattan, a folksy ag outpost in the Gallatin Valley west of Bozeman. Sir Scott’s, a restaurant institution, is a joint where I’ve enjoyed some of the finest Montana-raised filet mignons, New York strips, tenderloins and burgers in my life. And that’s saying something being the son of restauranteurs. When visitors come to town, I take them there. We are actually blessed with a long list of joints specializing in grass-fed beef, lamb and bison. If you’re polite and ingratiate yourself to local hosts, you might even convince them to open their freezers and share a backstrap of elk, pronghorn, moose or deer. For years, ads for the National Livestock and Beef Board left us remembering the clever tagline: “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” while, at the same time fast-food outlet Wendy’s had us asking, “Where’s the Beef?” That is until our red meat intake, one of the highest in the world, became a health concern. Now we’re pondering whether that quarter-pound piece of whatever it is, is real or a laboratory-concocted facsimile. For more than a year, I’ve been reading about the rise of Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. But it was an autumn 2019 story in The Economist magazine that brought my intrigue about fake meat to a new level. Turns out, millions of consumers are willing to try plant-based alternatives, so long as they are as tasty, juicy, filling, protein-rich and satisfying as, say, the real thing. Turns out, according to experts working in the sophisticated field of food engineering, that people want their burgers to have the same textural consistency as beef, which requires a lot of manipulation down to the ingredient enzyme level. Is a burger a burger if it isn’t made of red meat? Do we really want to be eating stuff that requires a degree in biochemical engineering, rather than graduation from a culinary institute, to know what’s in it? Turns out, consumers want to be part of a social trend. “At the moment, the market for meat substitutes is tiny,” The Economist reported. “Euromonitor, a marketresearch firm, estimates that Americans spend $1.4 billion a year on them, around 4 percent of what they spend on real meat. Europeans also chomp through about $1.5 billion-worth of meatless meat a year, but this is 9 to 12

percent of what they spend on animal flesh.” It added that, according to Eurometer, the market for meat alternatives in the U.S. and Europe will double by 2022, growing from 1 percent of the total market for meat to 10 percent later this decade. It’s been reported that Microsoft Founder Bill Gates, who spends summers in the Greater Yellowstone, is investing in lab-grown meat because he sees it as an important humanitarian investment. Others are following suit. Gary Rieschel with his firm Qiming Venture Partners is a respected venture capitalist as well as an inventor, global business strategist and conservationist who divides his time between the West Coast and southwest Montana. Early on, going back to when he was based in China, Rieschel recognized an opportunity with companies like Beyond Burger, a confluence where profit potential as an investor could align with human good. “The science around the quality and nutritional value of these products has advanced so much in the last seven to eight years,” he says. “Venture capitalists have put billions of seed money into helping alternatives reach a critical mass.” In addition, major food titans like Tyson, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland see themselves not as purveyors of grains and meats but protein.   In order to be economically sustainable, alternative meat needed to scale up and that involved achieving broad brand recognition and wider distribution channels. Plant burgers are now menu offerings at McDonald’s and Burger King in addition to big box stores. Coming soon, Rieschel says, are plant steaks.  Where plant-based, protein-rich meat alternatives can register their biggest impact, he explains, is in the developing world where rising standards of living might otherwise result in more American-style beef consumption that would not be good for the environment. In order to avoid that, companies selling affordable alternatives that can feed billions play a vital role. As for the conceit that plant burgers are as satisfying as beef, Rieschel isn’t buying it. Yet. “I don’t think these products represent a threat to the booming steak business at Sir Scott’s Oasis,” he says. >>

PHOTO BY ZAC CAIN

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ow might consumer growth and shifting consumer tastes ripple? Seemingly in ways big and small, but there could be casualties, too. Dr. Selena Ahmed is associate professor of sustainable food systems and principle investigator with the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University. She is widely respected for delving into the head-spinning holistic realm encompassing how food is grown and consumed. Given rising numbers of humans on the planet, levels of meat consumption are a problem, she says. Growing cows to meet demand is a problem. Costs of production don’t register when we pay the tab at a restaurant or grocery store checkout line, say those involved in a new emerging cross-disciplinary field of study that combines ecology with human health, market economics, conservation, climate change and social justice. Every year in the U.S. about 100 million cattle are raised. Many readers here know that the gastrointestinal process of bovines converting grass to flesh involves creating a lot of methane that is burped and farted by cows. Methane, like carbon dioxide, rises into the atmosphere and accounts for about 14.5 percent of greenhouse gases. “In addition to being a major driver of climate change, the livestock industry is a major driver of land-use change, biodiversity loss, water pollution and resource waste,” Ahmed tells me. “Rearing livestock requires expansive areas of land which have often come at the cost of replacing native diversified landscapes, damaging soils and contaminating waterways.” Livestock require numerous other resources including feed, which requires its own land and resources to grow. In the Northern Rockies, for example, rivers are nearly dewatered in summer to grow a single crop, alfalfa, that will provide hay for cattle in winter. Ahmed does not blanketly condemn the livestock industry. “There are ways of rearing livestock in more sustainable ways such as regenerative agriculture that supports sequestering carbon dioxide and rebuilding soil organic matter,” she notes, mentioning that she met a neighbor around Bozeman who is starting a regenerative bison

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Dr. Selena Ahmed, associate professor of sustainable food systems and principle investigator with the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University

operation that mimics native habitat and ancient grazing patterns. “This is really inspiring,” she says. “I think it is important to think about the land-use colonialism that created our current food systems and learn from the indigenous food systems of a place and their associated cultural and ecological values.” Yes, she invokes the word colonialism, a hot-button topic on college campuses with a focus on social and environmental justice. Colonialism pertains to the usurping—read: racist—values brought to North America from Europe that resulted in genocide of indigenous people, killing off of predators like wolves and grizzlies that ate nonnative cattle and sheep, annihilating bison to subdue native people that survived on it as a staple, and fencing out species like elk and deer from private property because they competed for grass with cattle. The heart of the issue is the way land itself was forcibly wrested away from tribal nations and privatized, becoming manifested in the West as cattle ranches and farms grew crop monocultures at the expense of native plant diversity. These are topics that, until recently, were seldom explored critically at public land grant agricultural schools like Montana State University. There is a correlation, Ahmed and a large number of colleagues say, between the lack of diversity that has existed in the community of food growers and the way it has been expressed on

IN DISCUSSING THE PROFOUND ECOLOGICAL COSTS OF THE WAY WE GROW AND CONSUME FOOD, I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT NOT TO PIT LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION AGAINST PLANT CROP PRODUCTION


NOW SECTION: SUBHEAD

landscapes. Corporate agriculture has severely impacted family-run operations and resulted in attempts to maximize production yields with single commodities. “Monocultures of crops such as corn and soy have replaced thriving prairie ecosystems in the Western landscape that were once characterized by diverse species of grasses, shrubs, flowers, insects and mammals,” Ahmed says. “In looking at the nine key planetary boundaries about the earth system processes to sustain life on Earth, we are already in a dangerous zone for biodiversity loss. In the past 120 years, we have lost approximately 75 percent of the crop diversity in the food system. We need to bring this diversity back into our landscapes, back on our plates and bowls.” Not long ago, I chatted with Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota widely heralded as “the Sioux chef” for bringing his knowledge of ethnobotany and Native cuisine to the forefront of discussions about food. His cookbook The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen won a prestigious James Beard Award for best American cookbook. Sherman, who spent some of his formative years in Red Lodge, Montana, raises his eyebrows when pondering the invention of Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger. “You don’t need to have food invented in a petri dish,” he says. “Everything you need to survive well is already there in nature made available by the Creator. You just have to live respectfully with it.” In a state like Montana where rural legislators have a huge say in controlling the purse strings of public funding for universities, issues like confronting the legacy of colonialism is controversial. But it’s also indicative of how conversations arrayed around human equity and seeking a more harmonious relationship between modern humankind and the land is changing.

o, back to my simple quest to judge the relative merits of those Beyond Meat burgers coming off the grill. Although it was cooked, it barely changed color. There really was no varying degrees of temperature, as in rare, medium or well done. Plants, like carrots, are either raw or cooked. As my molars and jaws engaged, I had another inquiry: What would a local nutritionist make of all this? Kim Johnson in Bozeman is a dietitian and nutritionist who advises people struggling with making healthy food choices, in particular young and old folks with eating disorders. An important bit of advice she offers is that the way people talk about food reflects the way they think about food and vice versa. If they wrestle unconsciously with issues such as shame and guilt, body image and social acceptability, it can distort how food is perceived. “There is no ‘good food’ or ‘bad food,’” Johnson says. “That’s not how I approach it. If you enjoy eating a beef burger it doesn’t make you a bad person.” Similarly, ponying up for a plastic-wrapped two-fer of Beyond Meat patties doesn’t validate self-righteousness. She tries to help people move beyond obsessively-compulsively being fixated on food, including the tribalism attached to being a devout vegan. I wondered if Johnson has noticed a shift in southwest Montana in the way people choose to eat, influenced by the presence of food co-ops, farm-to-market ventures and more local sourcing of food in restaurants. “I have noticed diet culture has shifted to a high-protein phase,” she says. “We’ve moved from a low-fat phase to a low-carb phase and now to a high-protein phase. Fad diets such as paleo and keto have fueled the fad that people need excessive amounts of protein in their diet. People do need protein but not as much as the current diet culture makes it out to be. I’ve found that one of the main adjustments I make to a majority of my client’s diet is decreasing the protein intake and increasing the carbohydrate intake.” Plant burger manufacturers emphasize protein. When Johnson works with clients, she moves the conversation toward the larger realm of seeking balance in life as it pertains to everything. Food is no different. Meat, vegetables and fruits, grains, proteins, carbs, starches, sugar, salt, calories, even alcohol. The body has needs to run healthy and it doesn’t discriminate what is put in the tank. She helps people ponder a mix and, in understanding moderation, it can help people become liberated from fixation, including habits that lead to addiction. As an extension of what Johnson says, Ahmed cautions against demonizing ranchers and farmers. “In discussing the profound ecological costs of the way we grow and consume food, I think it is important not to pit livestock production against plant crop production,” she says. It’s not a binary either-or proposition, but a transformation is needed and she believes that consumers and producers can together drive a positive feedback loop for change, where consumers support conscientious growers encouraging more of them to exist. >>

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n my line of work as an environmental journalist, I’ve seen many farming and ranching families in the Rocky Mountain West leave their operations behind, selling the land and seeing it converted into ranchettes or subdivisions. Lost is more than access to Gallatin Valley soil, considered some of the most fertile in our corner of the West, but gone, too, is crucial wildlife habitat and sense of community. While cattle are blamed for being negative agents of change on hundreds of millions of acres in the public-land West, ranchers control the fate of private lands that are vital to the survival of native species that humans like to view with spotting scopes and hunt. They provide visually pleasing open space punctuated by views unmarred with blight. Montana, Wyoming and Idaho don’t even register in the top five cattle-producing states but cattle disproportionately influence land-use practices. There are about 2.5 cows for every Montana human resident, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of Montana’s 93 million acres of total land area, 58 million acres, or 64 percent, are found within the fenced boundary of a ranch or farm. Six of every 10 acres has livestock on it. Some 26,000 farms and ranches exist in the state, with the average spread about 2,100 acres. Livestock production is a $1.5 billion annual industry in Montana and crop production an equal amount.

Montana has 2.5 cows per human resident.

Montana has

$1.5 billion

farms and ranches.

Livestock production and crop production generate an equal amount annually.

26,000

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of Montana’s 93 million acres are within the fenced boundary of a ranch or farm.

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COVID-19 caused a freeze in beef production leaving Western ranchers without a market when many families were struggling to stay viable. Land conversion away from agricultural use is seen as one of the biggest threats to maintaining biological connectivity for migrating wildlife. Ironically, while ordering a Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger isn’t likely to seal the fate of agrarians, buying grass-fed beef from conscientious local ranchers invested in sustainable practices is itself a value-laden investment. It’s another way to vote with our wallet. “We need to be working with policy makers, landowners and scientists to create conservation zones that support biodiversity and have regulations or development,” Ahmed says. “Landowners need to be provided incentives and be supported.” Those who say the remedy is simply eliminating all cattle to address climate change is impractical the same as suggesting the power grid can seamlessly switch tomorrow from burning fossils to wind and solar in generating electricity. Like moderation with diet, the first shifts must be incremental. Ahmed cites emerging evidence that livestock practices using select feed additives such as certain seaweeds can inhibit methane-producing microorganisms in the rumen and reduce methane emissions. “However, there is also evidence of risks to those additive practices,” she says. “On the consumer side, reducing meat consumption as part of a largely plant-based diet is key. It’s important to note that this is not a recommendation for a 100 percent vegetarian or vegan diet. In fact, some evidence


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suggests that a 90 percent plant-based diet is more sustainable based on multiple indicators compared to a 100 percent plant-based diet.” Based on differing datapoints, researchers say that in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the production of plant-based burgers generates about 3 percent of emissions that a beef herd does, requires a tiny fraction of freshwater withdrawals from aquifers and rivers, and involves a small amount of total land use that it takes to yield a pound of beef. Yes, indeed. What are the ingredients in a Beyond Meat burger? Its flashy webpage says: “Protein, fat, minerals, carbohydrates and water are five building blocks of meat. We source these building blocks directly from planets, to create delicious, mouth-watering plant-based meat.” Drilling down a little deeper and the protein comes from peas, mung beans, fava beans and brown rice; fats from cocoa butter, coconut oil, sunflower oil and canola oil; minerals from calcium, iron, salt and potassium chloride; carbohydrates from potato starch and methylcellulose (a plant fiber

PHOTO BY STIJN TE STRAKE

derivative); and the “colors and flavors” from beet juice extract, apple extract and what it calls “natural flavors.” Adding beet juice is intended to mimic the appearance of blood. These ingredients do not naturally appear out of the sky. They need to be watered, grown in a way that avoids insect infestation, at a scale that the burgers are affordable to produce and for consumers to buy, and they must be transported, usually via vehicles whose engines run on gas. And the more popular that plant-based burgers become the more those ingredients must flow into the pipeline. Ahmed agrees. I ask her if Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers are making the wrong pitch, doing too much work, in masquerading as replacements for traditional beef burgers. She does not have a Pollyannaish perspective. She applauds food-production practices that result in less consumption of natural resources and cause fewer impacts. “This is one dimension of sustainability. But let’s dig a little deeper,” she says. “What are these meat alternative burgers made of? They are essentially ultra-processed foods dependent on lengthy supply chains. As the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting, lengthy globalized supply chains that require ingredients transported from different locations are vulnerable to disruptions,” she says. “We really want to foster resilience in the food system and lengthy unpredictable supply chains are not the answer. In thinking about Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger, lots of things come to mind in how this impacts our complex and wicked food system, and all the systems our food systems interact with.” In her lab at MSU and in working with other experts, Ahmed has conducted sustainability analyses for most food ingredients. “In thinking about the cultural aspects of these meatalternative burgers, on the one hand they are great examples of our industrialized and globalized milieu, and on the other hand they can seem distant to the cultural heritage of a place,” she says.

Most consumers cannot grow their own meat, nor grow all of the ingredients in what would be the perfect organic veggie burger. But carnivores can buy meat locally that don’t require many inputs to get from pasture to table. They can give their business to responsible restauranteurs. They can get to know ranchers the same way that wine connoisseurs go to regions and become friendly with eco-conscious vintners. They can support indigenous operators who are raising bison as a way of reconnecting to past, culture, spiritual identify and land. So, I take a bite of Beyond Burger and then another. When I finish, I carry the plastic it came in out to the recycling bin. Cost of the two patties: $6. What are all the tentacles of resources used that went into its getting to Bozeman? I’ll never know. But the delivery truck probably pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any I saved by eating it instead of Montana grass-fed cow. As I reflect on the real burgers and steaks I’ve had at Sir Scott’s Oasis, and have seen where the animals were raised—in open spaces where they shared the premises with elk and deer—I have a better feeling in my gut. I know where the meal came from. I know that given their land practices they share the same values I do regarding the long game in protecting parts of our heritage in the region. What am I also daydreaming about? It’s someday sharing a meal with my indigenous friends in their backyards when the bison burgers they put on the grill came from land their ancestors inhabited for generations too many to calculate. The high price I’m willing to pay for that experience would pale in comparison to the satisfaction it would deliver. Bozeman-based writer Todd Wilkinson has been writing about the West for more than 30 years. He is a correspondent for National Geographic and The Guardian, the author of several books and founder of Mountain Journal (mountainjournal. org), a nonprofit, public-interest journalism site devoted to exploring the intersection between people and nature in the West.

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SECTION: SUBHEAD Left: Adeline Gengenbacher mugs for the camera while sitting atop a horse at Eagle Mount’s equine facility in Bozeman during Camp Braveheart last summer. She was 2 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Below: Gengenbacher learns how to groom a horse at Eagle Mount’s stables during Camp Braveheart last summer.

Blooming Trees

‘Big Sky Kids’ gives hope to cancer survivors and families STORY AND PHOTOS BY JODI HAUSEN

A chestnut-brown horse towered over Adeline Gengenbacher’s tiny body as she ran a brush along its flank. Her hammedup, gap-toothed smile belied the trauma the 6-year-old had endured through cancer’s pitiless assaults. Adeline, her parents and younger brother joined four other families last summer at Eagle Mount Bozeman’s Camp Braveheart for cancer patients ages 5 to 10 years old. The nonprofit’s five Big Sky Kids camps, held annually throughout southwestern Montana including at Big Sky Resort, are now in their 36th year. The camps allow children, young adults and their families to escape their sobering medical battles in a place where parents watch their kids just being kids and to be with each other in a way not often accessible in their own communities. It gives families a chance to bond with each other and with others who share their struggles. “Just to be there with other families, to hear their stories and realize that the 46

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path that we walked, it’s not a lonely path, we’re not the only ones that have ever done that,” said Adeline’s father, Derek Gengenbacher. “It’s healing in a way.” Because Eagle Mount also provides recreational opportunities for people with a wide array of disabilities, Big Sky Kids can accommodate campers who have lost limbs to the disease or are not strong enough to walk, for example, providing a worry-free environment and a vacation like none other. “It takes away those day-to-day decisions that parents are thrown into making” when they have a child with cancer, said Dr. Dan Niebrugge – a pediatric oncologist who has been volunteering with the camp for nearly 30 years. Everything is done for them—transportation, meals, accommodations. They get to relax and enjoy much of what Montana has to offer. Sitting under a tarp at a picnic table on Taylor Fork Road about 20 miles south of Big Sky, Todd Young said he’s hopeful

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the bone marrow transplant his son Sam received from his sister will keep Sam from getting cancer a third time. Now 13, Sam said having cancer was certainly scary. It was also boring. “I can’t leave the hospital, I had to be there for a couple of weeks and I wasn’t able to do a lot of things after.” In fact, Sam was cleared only days before coming to camp to be in public without a facemask, which he’d worn to protect himself from infection. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 11,000 U.S. children and 5,800 adolescents are expected to be diagnosed with the sometimes-lethal disease this year. But advancements in treatment mean that more than 80 percent of childhood cancers are cured. That’s not to say they come through it unscathed—cancer leaves children with physical scars—but the emotional wounds are often more profound. Last summer, Jolene Carlson came from Minnesota with her daughter Nata-


NOW: OUTLOOK

“...to hear their stories and realize that the path that lie, 15, to Big Sky Adventure, we walked, it’s a 10-day camp for 11- to 18-year-olds. Natalie attended not a lonely path, Camp Braveheart when she was in first grade and this we’re not the only was her first time returning to Montana. She persevered ones that have through more than two years of chemotherapy starting ever done that... when she was 5 and Jolene believes Natalie suffers from It’s healing in a PTSD from the experience. way.” Being with other childhood cancer survivors helps. “She doesn’t really talk about it much,” Carlson said. “In fact, she tries to hide it. She connects to kids who’ve gone through the same thing and understand.” When they get in a hot tub, for example, their port scars are like a victory banner rather than something to be hidden or that needs explanation. “Everyone knows what it is,” Carlson said. Bryan Beckedahl was a robust young man playing high school football and working on his parents’ North Dakota farm when at 15 he was diagnosed with bone cancer. He attended Big Sky Kids in 1987 at age 17. Beckedahl had always wanted to give back to the program, but until last summer he had not returned. On this warm sunny day in July, Beckedahl wears a heavy Nikon camera around his neck and uses a single crutch to get around, having lost one-third of his hip to the disease. As a volunteer, he was unsure he’d fit in with these young cancer patients and their families but as the days came and went he realized his presence delivered a powerful message. “What I really wanted to do is to be an inspiration for the parents,” he said. “I wanted to be a beacon of hope for them.” The last night around the campfire was emotional when Beckedahl learned he succeeded in his quest.

“It was impactful for them to see me, you know, alive and doing well 33 years later and that, at one point, I was in the same position as their child,” he said. Big Sky Kids camps also include a Young Adult Retreat for ages 16 to 23, Flight Camp with Summit Aviation for cancer survivors 18 or older, and Spring Fling weekend, a reunion of campers and family members that includes skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Big Sky Resort and Lone Mountain Ranch. Wooden, hand-painted nametags dangle from evergreen trees, mostly spruce, planted on Eagle Mount’s south Bozeman campus reflecting the stories of children who have come here to celebrate life—lives that have survived cancer

Above: Sam Young, 12, (left) poses with his father, Todd Young, who came to the Big Sky Kids Adventure Camp last summer from Florida. Sam had been cleared from immunity precautions shortly before coming to Montana. Below: Big Sky Kids volunteer and former camper Taylor Desmet (left) plays a rousing card game with intern Julia Houstin and others on a rainy day in Taylor Fork during the 10-day Adventure Camp last summer.

and, in some cases, succumbed to it. Each year a new tree is planted and campers place their nametags on boughs in the waning hours of their Montana adventure. They come from all corners of the country, creating a network of people whose spirits support one another in a fight only they can comprehend. And, like campers’ hopes and dreams, the trees keep growing. “It’s a family, it’s a place where the kids belong,” said Lee Stevenson, who has worked or volunteered with the program since its inception. “It’s a living, growing tree. Every year you get a new branch and the trunk supports the branches and everybody blooms here.” Jodi Hausen is a Bozeman-based freelance writer and photographer whose award-winning work has appeared in national and regional publications. She is working on several book projects, including one about people with so-called disabilities.

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AS WE EXPAND INTO THE AMERICAN FRONTIER, HOW IS THE WEST COPING WITH ANIMAL MIGRATION? BY BRIGID MANDER

A mule deer crossing the road in Grand Teton National Park PHOTO COURTESY OF NPS/ADAMS

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J U S T N O R T H O F P I N E DA L E , W Y O M I N G , A 1 2 - M I L E S T R E TC H U. S . H I G H WAY 1 9 1

embodies the well-known, 1800s western folk song refrain, “Give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play.” U.S. 191’s quintessential western American landscape showcases wildlife habitat, the Wind River Range’s majestic peaks in the east and rolling sagelands stretching west to the distant Wyoming Range. Over the last few decades, however, instead of playing, the deer and the antelope were struck by vehicles and died on the roadside in alarming numbers. More and faster cars, expanded energy development and trucking pointed to an increasingly bleak outcome for wildlife. On this and the more than four million miles of American roads, wildlife-vehicle collisions have been on the rise for decades. Estimates by the Federal Highway Administration in 2008 put large wildlife collisions alone at 1-2 million nationally based on road maintenance reports, but wildlife biologists believe actual numbers are significantly higher—up to four times higher (including elk, bears, cougars and deer). The financial repercussions are upwards of $8 billion, according to the FHWA. In Wyoming, vehicles kill a conservative estimate of 6,000 big game animals annually, 85 percent of which are mule deer. The total economic value of known lost animals is about $23 million, with $29 million in personal injury and costs to humans, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department numbers.

Despite these grim statistics, there are new bright spots for animal and driver safety. On that stretch of Wyoming road, for example, animal fatalities are all but gone, thanks to dedicated game biologists, engineers and a huge financial investment by the state of Wyoming to build the Trapper’s Point wildlife crossing project, finished in 2012. Now, close to 100 percent of antelope cross safely using one of two,150-foot wide bridges. Mule deer and other animals also use these bridges, or one of six underpasses in the same stretch. At a cost of $10 million, the state estimates Trapper’s Point will pay for itself in both wildlife and vehicle damage by the year 2022. It’s also inspiring for both local residents and visitors as a great example of coexistence with wildlife. “One of the big motivators has been the science and data we’ve been collecting, [more accurate locations] of individual animals makes it real, and with social media, wildlife managers can share it with the public in a way they understand,” said Jill Randall, the statewide migration coordinator for Wyoming Game and Fish. “This has resulted in a lot more public support for spending the money on crossings.” It may seem like it’s taken ages for this simple solution to be executed. But the amount of research that goes into a crossing is staggering, including where exactly to put them and how to design them for various species that may balk at one design but use another. Much of that has been precise data and better GPS technology from collared animals over the last decade, and it points to a better future for them. >>

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animals clarified the importance of Trapper’s Point: U.S. 191 impeded a critical migration route bottleneck for thousands of migrating pronghorn traveling 125 miles twice a year between summer range near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and winter range on the high deserts of southern Wyoming. As the first federally designated migration corridor, it’s also the longest remaining migration in the west for pronghorn: fawns have learned the path from their mothers for at least 6,800 years, according to the Wyoming Migration Initiative, a research project from the University of Wyoming. Thousands more mule deer using similar corridors migrate farther, 150-200 miles—each way—to the Red Desert. Trapper’s Point may be a dramatic example, but each crossing has its own story. In the early 2000s, game managers for the iconic but struggling Wyoming Range mule deer herd lobbied for underpasses in western Wyoming’s Nugget Canyon. Here, U.S. Highway 30 cut across winter range and migration corridors for upwards of 10,000 mule deer. More than 500 animals died on the same 13 miles of road every winter, and hundreds more likely made it away from the road before dying, thus uncounted, according to Jeff Short, a wildlife biologist for southwest Wyoming. The underpasses and fencing reduced deer mortality to about 30 or fewer individuals each winter, mostly due to temporary fencing failures. With such clear successes, an increasing number of large- and small-scale projects are finally being funded and built to retrofit roads and landscapes to work better for drivers and for wildlife. With each successful project, public support swells. From Nevada to Washington state, California to Utah, these projects share the unusual combination of being both utilitarian and heartwarming. In Montana, wildlife researchers and the state Department of Transportation created a success story on Highway 93. From Hamilton to Lolo, and Evaro up to Polson, 76 total miles of road were rebuilt with 81 crossings including bridges, tunnels and fish culverts to restore habitat connectivity between 2001 and 2015. The driving public has been positively impacted, and for one driver in northern Montana, the more / M T O U T L AW. C O M

crossings the better. “When you drive Highway 93 north of Whitefish, there are no crossings and many dead animals. I’ve even hit a deer, I felt horrible at the waste of life,” said Sarah Light, a Whitefish resident who commuted to Missoula once a week on 93 for school. “But driving south, it’s remarkable, I love seeing the bridges and it’s heartwarming to know the animals are safer too.”  “It’s really linear. We have the technology and it works,” said Chris Colligan, wildlife program coordinator for the Bozeman, Montana-based conservation group Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “We can solve this issue; the state DOTs are realizing we can engineer a solution, and the public is paying more attention now. They are more connected because of videos and imagery about how these animals navigate barriers.” Public support also eases the financial burden on state agencies, making more projects happen faster. In 2019, Teton County, Wyoming residents were in an uproar over local wildlife, such as deer and moose, getting hit by increasing commuter and tourism traffic. While a priority for the local community, WYDOT focused on roads with vastly worse outcomes for wildlife struggling to maintain migration corridors and winter range. So Teton County voters approved a local, $10 million special purpose excise tax on top of sales tax to raise money for the local crossings and expedite a solution. In Colorado, a stretch of State Highway 9 between popular recreation spots in Summit and Routt counties bisected critical winter range for mule deer and other animals. Wildlife mortality was significant: 63 large animals died on average per winter on an 11mile stretch. In 2013, a public-private collaborative fundraising effort began, resulting in two overpasses and five underpasses by the end of 2016. Today, 96 percent of wintering mule deer trying to cross the road successfully navigate the passages, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). “It was a huge partnership project,” said ECOResolutions’ Julia Kintsch, the monitoring research leader on the effort. CPW worked closely with CDOT on the design. Money from the state, Grand and Summit Counties, nearby municipalities, and millions from Blue Valley Ranch, a private landowner along the stretch funded the crossings. Kintsch notes that departments of transportation are realizing they can’t, and don’t, have to operate in isolation and instead can partner with other groups and nonprofits interested in the impact of roads. “Each agency used to have their own mission, but now there is collaboration to make things work for wildlife and drivers,” Kintsch said. “Wildlife is an important part of what communities value, and how


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W Y O M I N G

Vehicles kill a conservative estimate of

6,000

“THE STATE DOTS

Total economic value of known lost animals is about

big game animals annually with

in personal injury and costs to humans

we interact with the landscape. Overpasses are really visible to drivers [who] get really excited. The crossings generate a lot of interest and awareness that mitigation is feasible.” The action is not just in the West, or merely for big game either. Florida is building crossings for bears, panthers and other animals. As long ago as 1987, tunnels were built in Massachusetts to help tiny salamanders travel under roads and safely access their breeding ponds, and turtle underpasses exist across the nation. On the other hand, the largest wildlife crossing in the world to date is underway in Los Angeles as a passage for cougars, deer, coyotes and small game to reconnect an ecosystem long cut off by the 10-lane 101 freeway. In late 2019,

the project was in its final design stage, and about 80 ARE REALIZING WE percent of the $87 million CAN ENGINEER A price tag came from priSOLUTION, AND THE vate donations, while the rest will be public money PUBLIC IS PAYING earmarked for conservaMORE ATTENTION tion. It is set to open in NOW. THEY ARE 2023. MORE CONNECTED These successes and wide support are trickling BECAUSE OF VIDupward. Last year, a bill EOS AND IMAGERY introduced to the Senate ABOUT HOW THESE by Wyoming Sen. John ANIMALS NAVIGATE Barrasso, called America’s Transportation InfrastrucBARRIERS.” ture Act of 2019 (S.2302), authorizes the fed to invest $287 billion in roads and bridges over the next five years and allocates $250 million of that into a pilot program for wildlife crossings. “We’re never going to get back to animal populations of the 1950s,” say Wyoming’s Randall. “We’re just trying our darndest to hang onto what we have [and] protect their migration corridors as well as the summer and winter ranges. This is a really good, linear problem and opportunity to have a positive impact.” Brigid Mander is a writer based in Jackson, Wyoming, but hails from the New York metro area and is grateful for the animals of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. She can be spotted on the road driving under the speed limit and looking out for mule deer.

Thousands of migrating pronghorn travel 125 miles twice a year between summer range near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and winter range on the high deserts of southern Wyoming. PHOTO BY TOM KOERNER/USFWS

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FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

H OW O N E FA M I LY ’ S B AT T L E W I T H L O U G E H R I G ’ S D I S E A S E I S I N S P I R I N G A N AT I O N BY STEVEN HAWLEY

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NOW: OUTLOOK

Eric and Amanda Stevens look as settled into their coronavirusinduced self-quarantine as any young couple could be. On our FaceTime call, I see them sitting in their Costa Mesa, California home, couch surfing in shorts and sweatshirts, the physiques of two elite athletes making them look a little less frumpy than the standard pandemic homebody. But they also appear slightly haggard as so many of us these days do, while life has turned into a litany of dressed-down, work-from-home sick days. Getting reacquainted with the couch, interspersed with long walks on the beach with the their chocolate lab, Duke, has provided solace in the face of the COVID-19 madness. Like most dogs, Duke is thrilled to pieces with California’s shelter-in-place order. The same can’t be said for Eric and Amanda. “We feel like this has just been a momentum killer for us,” says Amanda, the frustration palpable in her voice. “Just before the shutdown, we felt like we were making real progress. But now we’re on hold, along with everything and everybody else.” “And I can’t get the virus,” Eric says matter-of-factly. “ALS patients already have compromised lungs.” If the Stevens couple seems familiar, it might be because Amanda was a speaker at

last January’s TEDxBigSky event. As she told the Big Sky, Montana crowd then, a month after their fairly-tale wedding in July of 2019, Eric was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Amanda’s brave talk, outlining the couple’s campaign to gain access to promising stem cell treatment for ALS, has more than 35,000 views on YouTube. Stevens Nation, the team moniker for those who’ve climbed aboard the Stevens’ #axeALS campaign, is a growing social media phenomenon. Eric and Amanda have appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show—twice inside of three months. But the line Amanda delivered inside the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center last January that didn’t leave a dry eye in the house—“My husband is dying”—is still true. >>

PHOTO BY ISIAH GIBSON

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Eric, Amanda and their dog Duke pose for a holiday photo in 2019. Eric was diagnosed with ALS only a month after the couple’s wedding in July of 2019. PHOTO BY TAYLER ASHLEY

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ALS IS A HORRIFIC DISEASE.

There is no cure. It takes everything its victims have, starting with the lion’s share of their money—and ending with their last breath. They die because they can no longer breathe or swallow on their own. A tendency among those chronicling the deterioration of ALS patients is to focus on the full and at times happy lives it’s possible to live, even in the midst of immense pain and suffering. ALS patients recently diagnosed, still walking, talking, breathing and swallowing know what’s coming. The fear and dread are yet another variety of punishment the disease dishes out. This is the stage of ALS that Eric and Amanda Stevens are dealing with. They, along with their family and friends, are never more than a few breaths away from shedding a few more tears.

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In spite of all that, what follows here is not a tragedy. It’s a love story. Like all good and true love stories, happily ever after is no guarantee. And like all true love stories, the ending remains unwritten. To understand why this is a love story, there are some people in Eric and Amanda’s near orbit you should meet. Eric has three brothers. All four of them are ridiculously handsome and athletic, yet plain spoken, well grounded in the art of practical living, and dedicated to serving others’ needs before their own. Three of them—Jeff, the oldest, along with middle brother Brett and Eric, the youngest, are Los Angeles City firefighters. The fourth brother, Craig, in 2016 gave up catching touchdown passes from the likes of Marcus Mariota, closing the door on an eight-year career as a tight end with the Tennesee Titans. He could see the toll the game was taking on the health of his colleagues. Among myriad hazards, football players also risk twice the probability of an ALS diagnosis. Craig witnessed Titans teammate Tim Shaw as he was cut from the Titans in 2011 after then-mysteriously declining performance. In 2014, Shaw was diagnosed with ALS. Eric also played football in high school then at Cal-Berkley, and for a year in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams. Eric’s style of play reminds Craig of ex-teammate Shaw. “They were both reckless with their bodies, headhunters,” Craig recalls. Eric and Amanda are also blessed with the kind of friends for which many of us can only wish. There are dozens of them, but three of Eric’s childhood buddies are practically family. Independently of one another they testified they are more like brothers than friends: Vince Tomich, Kevin Hawke and Mickey Mance have known Eric since they were all kids. Stevens Nation, the name for followers of the Stevens’ #axeALS campaign, was actually invented when the Stevens and their friends were little. “My parents had four boys,” says Brett Stevens, of the family’s upbringing in nearby Palos Verdes. “But my dad has a brother who lived up the street from us who also had four boys. And there are two other brothers in my dad’s generation who had kids. So at any school


NOW: OUTLOOK

or sports event, you might see eight, 10 or 12 Stevens kids running around. People started calling us ‘Stevens nation’ back then.” Good families and the most loyal of friends are often reliable makers of true love stories. Another far less obvious connection lies in the ways love is like water. Its persistence belies its liquid lack of structure. It doesn’t talk much. Taking on the shape of whatever sized vessel it can fill, water presses on quietly, over, around, through anything, most often without anyone noticing what it’s doing, finding its way along the path of least resistance.

“Eric does what he’s going to do, but he does it for everyone else. Him being himself motivates me to be myself.”

ERIC STEVENS HAS BEEN A

water baby his whole life. Palos Verdes is situated near some of southern California’s better surf breaks, and Eric and Brett grew up surfing from a young age. These days, Eric’s favorite thing to do is fly fish. “Just walking along any stream in the mountains, the quiet of it, the scenery,” he says. Kevin Hawke has seen it. “Eric likes to fish,” he says, “and anyone who knows him can totally see him living along some stream in Montana, just him and Amanda and their dog.” It was the first thing Eric could

think of doing after his diagnosis. He and Vince, Kevin and Mickey drove to Mammoth Mountain, high in the Sierra Nevada, to fish and watch the water roll by. “We all just agreed we had to fix this,” recalls Mickey Mance. “After we went to Mammoth, we all agreed to dig a little deeper, looking at websites, looking at blogs, online forums, whatever we could find.” The determination to find and advocate for better treatment for ALS was never in doubt from the day Eric shared the news of his diagnosis. But there was another problem. “After he was diagnosed, Eric didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to tell anyone,” Vince Tomich says. “It wasn’t that he was in denial. It’s just that Eric has never asked anyone for help. Selfless is the word. The first thing he said about his diagnosis, and he said it repeatedly, was that he wanted to make sure Amanda would be OK. He’s always been about making other people’s lives easier.” Eric is possessed of an elusive and uncanny quality: he leads quietly, seemingly without trying, by a kind of example that others want to emulate. “He was an insane athlete, good at whatever he tried,” Tomich says. But he was the last person you’d ever hear telling a story about himself. Eric does what he’s going to do, but he does it for everyone else. Him being himself motivates me to be myself.” >> The original Stevens Nation clan—Eric, his brothers and his cousins—is what inspired the name for the community of supporters that have rallied behind Eric and Amanda and their family in the effort to bring awareness to ALS. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVENS NATION

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of the football team in his senior year at Cal. As the youngest of four boys, his quiet leadership qualities seem even more unusual. “None of my older brothers got to play football. My dad wouldn’t let them,” Eric says. “But I was the youngest of four and so I guess by the time I was old enough to play, my folks relaxed a bit.” Craig, five years Eric’s senior, began flipping through the playbook of his little brother’s Pop Warner football team. In Craig’s junior year of high school, inspired by Eric’s success at the game, he decided to try on a helmet for himself. It worked out pretty well: a full ride to Cal and an NFL career. When life changes quickly, assets that were once a tremendous help can sometimes prove a hindrance. Amanda saw her spouse’s initial reluctance to speak out, too. “It was a decision he had to make,” she says. “We knew that because of our connections as athletes, maybe we could get some attention on ALS, not just for Eric but for everybody. But Eric had to decide how much he could be out in front of people.” The quietly fierce competitiveness, the do-it-yourself then show others how to do it ethos, would have to change. Eric’s dynamism would have to be less like a rock and more like water— finding a way to get where he wanted— to effective treatment by cutting down the path of least resistance. Walking beside peaceful waters with the hope that a fish will rise might help. Eric had always wanted to fish in Alaska. Craig had some connections from his years in the NFL. Miraculously, four spots were available at one of Alaska’s finest fishing lodges, just as the short window of summer was about to slam shut in the far north. Bristol Bay Lodge sits in the heart of one of the world’s richest fishing grounds. For anyone who loves fly fishing, there’s no better place on earth.

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NOW: OUTLOOK

“It made us realize that Eric was going to have a platform ... And we would have to use it.”

Clockwise from left: Eric, once a fullback for the Cal-Berkeley football team, also played one year in the NFL for the St. Louis Rams. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAL ATHLETICS

Eric presents a rainbow trout he caught during a fishing trip in Alaska. The Stevens brother made the trip shortly after Eric was diagnosed. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVENS NATION

At the Fight for Hope fundraiser, Eric’s brothers presented him with an axe and vowed to fight for him and never give up on his behalf. PHOTO COURTESTESY OF STEVENS NATION

For the Stevens brothers, the juxtaposition of the world’s best fishing and the world’s worst diagnosis for Eric was disorienting. “The trip was kind of surreal at first,” says Brett. “We didn’t know what to talk about, or if we should talk about it, or if we should just fish and have fun.” Over the course of a few days, the brothers remembered what being brothers should be. “For a long time, we didn’t say anything,” Craig recalls. “Then we just started doing goofy things brothers do. One of us ate the raw heart out of the salmon we caught, and then we ate some of the eggs. We just started being how we’ve always been, laughing, cracking jokes.” The Bristol Bay Lodge experience includes a few nights at remote fishing haunts. Rainbo Camp is situated near the tidewater confluence of two rivers, an afternoon jaunt from the proper shore of the Bering Sea. Isolated as it is, accommodations remain on the posh side of any possible camping experience: two adults per spacious tent and a fulltime camp chef, camp hosts and fishing guides. Opulence that week, however, took a back seat to brotherly love. “We just decided to all move into one tent,” Craig says. “No one really talked about it. We just grabbed some cots and made it happen. At nights we talked a lot. Not about anything serious. It was good for all of us. Then I think it was as we were leaving that Eric said ‘I want to make a difference. I want to leave a legacy, I want my name to mean something.’ So then we knew.” What wasn’t known then was how quickly Eric’s willingness to speak out would spark a rush of support. In November of 2019, two months after Eric’s diagnosis, his brothers and friends decided to organize an oceanside cornhole tournament. “The idea was to invite friends and family, have a barbeque and drink some beers down by the beach,” Eric says. Vince Tomich, Mickey Mance and Kevin Hawke along with Eric’s brother Brett were up to the task, which proved more than just a backyard picnic. “We presold 2,500 tickets for the event,” recalls Mance, “and 1,500 more were walk-ups.” What started as a modest affair became something much more ambitious. A merch station sold hundreds of Stevens Nation/#axeALS hats and T-shirts. Mance, whose family owns a deli in Hermosa Beach, procured food and beverages. “It was insane,” chuckles Eric. “Kobe Bryant was tweeting about it.” “It made us realize that Eric was going to have a platform,” Amanda says. “And we would have to use it.” >>

On Eric and Amanda’s first appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres

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Show, Ellen surprised Eric by bringing his fire crew out. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW

IN BETWEEN APPEARANCES

on Ellen, a TEDx talk and managing a mushrooming social media campaign, Stevens Nation has sought justice for Eric and thousands of ALS patients like him. As Amanda describes in her TEDx talk, a small Israeli pharmaceutical company called Brainstorm is in Phase 3 of an FDA approval process for its promising ALS treatment, Nurown. The Food and Drug Administration is the federal agency charged with approving new medicines, and ALS patients lucky enough to have gotten in on the FDA trial process are walking after being wheelchair bound, ditching respirators as the power of their own lungs returns, and talking easily after the disease compromised their ability to speak. But even those whose ALS symptoms seemed halted or reversed were cut off from the drug when the trial ended. Drug approval is a complicated and expensive business. It often takes billions of dollars to bring a new drug into FDA-approved existence. It’s also

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necessary: less than a century ago, doorto-door salesmen peddled a concoction comprised of cocaine, morphine and alcohol door-to-door, a “tonic” that promised to cure whatever ailed. Yet in the case of ALS patients, the FDA has seemed more compassionate toward the scientific method than those diagnosed with a terminal illness. “This is how perverted our healthcare system is,” says Vince Tomich. “There are states where I can go, and with my stated intention to want to die I can get a prescription for a pill that will kill me. But Eric can’t have access to treatment that meets his stated intention to live. We have a system that will accommodate a wish to die, but not one to stay alive.” ALS advocates point out the cruelty of subjecting an ALS patient—one admitted to the trial—to a placebo. “These trials are inhumane,” Craig says. “Animals get treated better. You find a drug that’s effective for some ALS patients and then just cut them off of it at the end of the trial? Or worse, you

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give a placebo to a terminally ill patient?” Craig is closest to Washington, D.C., where he’s spent a lot of time pushing for a fast track for Nurown. The White House has ears on the situation. So do many members of Congress. But so far, no action. “They’ve suspended every rule in the book to fast track a vaccine for COVID-19,” Craig says. “So we know it can be done. The rules can be bent if the situation demands it.” There’s no doubt the situation demands it: in the time it will take to get Nurown approved and available for ALS patients, sometime in 2021, roughly 3,000 of them will die. One of them could be Eric. “There’s no sugarcoating it,” Tomich says. “Eric is dying. He’s going to die if what we’re doing doesn’t work.” Stevens Nation is working as fast as it can to access Nurown. Yesterday would have been the best day to pull this off. But tomorrow will work. Eric is no longer reluctant in the least to be in the public eye. “He will not give up,” Craig asserts.


NOW: OUTLOOK

Top left: Eric and Amanda appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show for the second time in February of 2020. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW

Bottom left: Jeff, Brett, Eric, Amanda and Craig Stevens pose for a photo in The Oval Office after a meeting in the Whitehouse in November of 2019. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVENS NATION

Right: In the height of the #axeALS movement, fire department crews took photos with the Stevens Nation flag in support of Eric. Here, the Fire Station 12 from Los Angeles City Fire replicate an iconic pose with the Stevens Nation flag. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVENS NATION

“He will do or try anything to beat this.” “I’ll do anything except a TEDx talk,” Eric says of his wife’s performance last January. “What Amanda did up there was just incredible, and it was definitely something I could not do.” Admitting there are things he can’t do has been part of the journey in learning to cope with ALS. “I always thought I’d be the one taking care of Amanda, and now here she is taking care of me.” Steadfast as Eric in her refusal to take credit for good works, Amanda corrects the record. “He isn’t taking care of me,” she says. “We’re taking care of each other.” Which brings us to one more way Stevens Nation is a love story. On one of the first family vacations where Amanda was present, she and Eric were still in college and still working out daily. Amanda was a soccer standout at Cal, a defender with her own reputation as a badass on the pitch. “They’re doing wind sprints up a hill,” recalls brother Brett, “and Amanda’s beating him.” When I related Brett’s recollection to Eric and Amanda, Eric rolled his eyes,

Amanda laughed, and Eric mildly and amusedly started disputing the account. But then he changed course. “No she probably beat me fair and square,” he concedes. “She was fast.” The transition from athletes to activists has been a different kind of fast, as well as a reckoning with a new variety

“With ALS there’s no tool in the toolbox. There’s no pill to take. So we have each other.” of frustration. “As an athlete, you’re always asking how can I get better? How can I improve? Do I need to run more or lift more, or do this drill? With ALS there’s no tool in the toolbox. There’s no pill to take. So we have each other,” Eric says. True love stories have an unwritten ending. Which implies that anyone might contribute to the next chapter— even you. If you’re so moved, try watching Amanda’s TEDx talk. She

reminds anyone who’s ever been married, anyone who’s ever been in love, of the exhilaration of catching one of life’s best waves with the one you chose, and the one who chose you. How two people together in love can be far greater than the sum of their parts. How infectious the love of family and friends can be. How it is that justice is borne out of love, how both compel us not merely to empathize, but to act. To show, not just tell. To hope, not out of fantasy, wild wish or hollow prayer, but with expectation: like casting a dry fly precisely to the spot you know a fish will rise. At the end of Amanda’s talk she and Eric’s embrace on stage, as if they’d both been sprinting up a hill so hard they had to lean on each other at the top. They fall into one another, and lift each other up as they do. That bear-hug is why this is a love story. Like water, true love stories sometimes don’t need words. Just the ocean of feelings in the heart of an embrace like that one.

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Snake River at dusk in Palouse Farm Country, Washington.

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AMERICAN RIVERS PHOTOS

The Dam Dichotomy

A decades-long debate over four dams in the Lower Snake BY CLAIRE CELLA is more about removing what divides us

“It is an odd dichotomy we have set for ourselves, between loving people and loving land.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer In the 1930s, the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River Basin was considered one of the country’s greatest assets. As a watershed that spans seven states and part of British Columbia, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers proposed a project they said would harness its full potential for Western residents. Between 1950 and 1970, a series of four dams were erected in Washington’s lower Snake River to the promise of increased hydroelectric power, irrigation capacity, navigation and commerce capabilities, and pollution abatement. But opponents predicted the dams would destroy migratory fish habitats, exterminate iconic salmon and steelhead runs, while degrading pristine recreation and ignoring the area’s tribal and cultural significance. The decades-long debate was rekindled in February when managing federal agencies released a draft environmental impact statement after four years of study, public input and stakeholder collaboration. In 2016 a U.S. District Court judge mandated the Army Corps, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration to prepare a new EIS after the court rejected, for the fifth time, the most recent federal plan and biological opinion meant to guide the operation of the Columbia River System dams in a way that does not jeopardize fish and wildlife species. The EIS covers the impact of 14 projects along the Columbia River Basin—including the four Snake River dams—on the surrounding environment. In the executive summary, the agencies conclude with a “preferred alternative” in which removing or breaching the dams was deemed unnecessary in favor of increased habitat restoration efforts. 64

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For others, however, breaching is the only way forward. Before dams, the Snake River once flourished, according to American Rivers, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring wild or damaged rivers and the leading dam removal organization in the U.S. More than 2 million wild salmon and steelhead once returned to spawn in the Snake and its tributaries each year. Today, these species are either extinct, endangered or threatened. Scott Bosse, director of the Northern Rockies branch of American Rivers, argues that if we “… just removed the dams and unclogged the salmon and steelhead migration corridors giving them full and uninhibited access to the Snake River again, the habitat is already there and it doesn’t need to be restored.” In addition to sharp salmon declines, the Puget Sound’s iconic southern resident killer whales were listed as endangered in 2011. Wildlife biologists and whale advocates believe this dwindling population could recover if salmon runs (which the whales rely upon as vital to their diet) were restored, particularly in the Snake. Over the years, the federal agencies have tried to mitigate the dams’ impacts: increasing fish hatchery operations, building safer turbine passage, developing more efficient spill operations for juvenile fish heading to the Pacific, and adding fish ladders for adult fish returning to spawn. According to Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, a nonprofit that advocates for hydropower in the Northwest, the technologies are some of the best in the world. “What a lot of people don’t understand,” he explained, “is that many previously removed dams were walls in the river where no fish could pass. But these dams are different with much improved technologies.” And while it’s easy to target the four Snake River dams, Miller continued, the problem for salmon is much bigger. “We’re still seeing declines in salmon populations without dams. It’s a problem beyond this river.”


NOW: REPORTS

harm of losing those dams would be a guaranteed loss to society and a hypothetical gain for salmon.” These concerns are made clear LOWER GRANITE LOWER DAM MONUMENTAL in the EIS. Removing the dams DAM would result in significant losses LITTLE GOOSE in hydropower, transportation DAM SNAKE RIVER and irrigation. In the short term, ICE HARBOR breaching would wreak havoc on DAM WA S H I N G T O N the communities that rely on cheap, IDAHO COLUMBIA RIVER renewable electricity, cause rolling blackouts, eliminate irrigation for OREGON nearly 47,000 acres of farmland, and cut off navigation for the eastern ports along the Snake. The removal of four Snake River dams (pictured) are among the 14 Columbia River Basin projects that However, Bosse and others like were recently evaluated in an Environmental Impact Statement mandated by a U.S. District Court Todd True, senior staff attorney at judge in 2016. The Snake River, which flows from Wyoming to Washington, is the Columbia River’s Earthjustice’s Northwest regional largest tributary and is also home to iconic salmon and steelhead runs. office, believe there is an alternative and an opportunity to find a solution So even though breaching might be the best possible option for between the dichotomy between people and land. It is possible salmon, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to not only restore the river, but also invest in the communities has determined in their biological opinions over the years, there that will be affected. Both True and Bosse cited numerous are no guarantees the fish would thrive due to other factors that examples where dams have been successfully removed to the influence their survival such as warming waters due to climate benefit of both communities and salmon: the Sandy, Elwha and change, increased pollution and contaminants in the oceans, and Conduit dams, among others. predatory animals, Miller said. “We have a chance to bring the Pacific Northwest into the But advocates, biologists and federal judges have asserted 21st century in a way that keeps everyone whole,” Bosse said. “It’s that these underlying issues merely increase the urgency we not just about dam removal or fish recovery, it’s about promoting need to take in order to ensure healthy salmon levels. healthy natural ecosystems, fisheries, agriculture and a rebuilt “[The salmon] need the best possible chance to survival,” power grid that depends on renewable energy.” said Michael Peterson, the director of the documentary film True, who has represented American Rivers, the Nez Perce Dammed to Extinction about the struggle to save the declining tribe, the state of Oregon and other conservation groups in five killer whales, “and shouldn’t we give them that?” lawsuits against the federal agencies since 2001, argues that for Dam passage, despite mitigation efforts, remains traumatic salmon there’s no other alternative. for juvenile fish and can lead to latent mortality or delayed death “The only thing the salmon need is a river,” True says. further down the river. And while there’s a role for hatchery fish, The 45-day public comment period on the draft EIS ended they also come with risks, says Michael Milstein, the public affairs in April. In June, NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s will provide a biological opinion, analyzing the impacts the Fisheries Department. agencies’ plan will have on endangered and threatened species. “There was a big hatchery effort set up to mitigate those From there the agencies will consider this opinion and public dams,” Milstein said. “But we have to walk a fine line in using the comments, release a final EIS and make a final decision in hatcheries to produce salmon to fully support the whales. We don’t the fall. The record of decision will explain their conclusive want to dilute the remaining wild fish with hatchery fish genetics.” determination about the dams and summarize any measures that Many dam proponents like Miller admit that dam breaching will be taken to minimize or mitigate environmental harm. would be best for salmon but don’t have a clear vision for the In the meantime, the federal agencies are reading through more future. “The outcomes are hard to forecast,” he argued, “so the than 3,000 public comments, and the chinook salmon and steelhead are making their spring run, swimming upstream. Dams being considered for removal

“It’s not just about dam removal or fish recovery, it’s about promoting healthy natural ecosystems, fisheries, agriculture and a rebuilt power grid that depends on renewable energy.”

Claire Cella, a New York state native, never imagined herself living in the West. That was five years ago and now she can’t imagine living anywhere else.

M T O U T L AW. C O M / MOUNTAIN

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YOUR GUIDE TO AMERICA’S FIRST NATIONAL PARK

VOL. 6 | 2020

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Helianthella uniflora, aka one-flower helianthella—a member of the sunflower family—in full bloom on Blacktail Plateau. PHOTO BY JIM PEACO

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SUMMER 2020

Owned and published in Big Sky, Montana PUBLISHER Eric Ladd EDITORIAL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, VP MEDIA Joseph T. O’Connor MANAGING EDITOR Jessianne Castle DEPUTY EDITOR Bella Butler ASSOCIATE EDITOR, DISTRIBUTION DIRECTOR Brandon Walker CREATIVE ART DIRECTOR Marisa Opheim GRAPHIC DESIGNER ME Brown SALES AND OPERATIONS CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER Megan Paulson VP SALES AND MARKETING E.J. Daws VP EVENTS Ennion Williams MEDIA AND EVENTS DIRECTOR Ersin Ozer BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT LEAD Sam Brooks CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER Blythe Beaubien CONTROLLER Treston Wold CONTRIBUTORS Skyler Boyd, Jacob W. Frank, Goutham Ganesh Sivanandam, Christine Gianas Weinheimer, Ed Harper, Neal Herbert, Jonathan Larson, Leon Lee, Chris Leipelt, Jim Peaco, Diane Renkin, Patrick Straub, Todd Wilkinson To advertise, contact Sam Brooks at sam@theoutlawpartners.com. OUTLAW PARTNERS P.O. Box 160250, Big Sky, MT 59716 (406) 995-2055 • media@outlaw.partners © 2020 Outlaw Partners unauthorized reproduction prohibited ON THE COVER: Grand Prismatic Spring of Yellowstone National Park. As the hottest spring in the United States, and third in the world behind Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand and Boiling Lake in Dominica, Grand Prismatic discharges 560 gallons of 160 F water each minute. PHOTO BY CHRIS LEIPELT

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D E PA R T M E N T S EXPLORE Maps: Gettting to and traveling in Yellowstone....................................78 Yellowstone Experience: Sholly on park future...................................82 SNAPSHOT Wallace Stegner, “The Sound of the Mountain”................................88 FLORA AND FAUNA Study: Bison good for landscape......................................................93 Tips for viewing wildlife....................................................................94 Fall raptor migration.......................................................................96 ADVENTURE Fishing primer......................................................................................98 For future generations....................................................................100 The Road Less Traveled..................................................................102 Recipes: Campfire cuisine for the (sorta) outdoorsperson.............104

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Sunrise on Yellowstone Lake (Flat Mountain Arm) PHOTO BY NPS/NEAL HERBERT

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EXPLORING YELLOWSTONE Gardiner Cooke City

WYOMING

MONTANA

Lamar Valley

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IDAHO

Grant

Due to COVID-19, park access and amenities may not be available at full capacity. Visit nps.gov/yell for timely updates.

YELLOWSTONE AND GRAND TETON ENTRANCE FEES VEHICLES

$35 per vehicle to visit each individual park, good for seven days

MOTORCYCLES OR SNOWMOBILES

$30 for each park, good for seven days

INDIVIDUAL (foot/bicycle/ski, etc.) $20 per person for each park, good for seven days 78

ANNUAL PASSES

ACCESS PASS

$70 for each individual park. An $80 America the Beautiful Pass is valid for entry to all fee areas on federal lands and is valid for one year.

Free for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities

SENIOR PASSES

Free annual pass available for active duty military personnel and their dependents

$80 lifetime pass, or $20 annual pass, available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or older

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MILITARY ANNUAL PASS FREE ENTRANCE DAYS

August 25: National Park Service Birthday September 26: National Public Lands Day November 11: Veterans Day


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THE YELLOWSTONE EXPERIENCE Superintendent Sholly on challenges facing Yellowstone BY TODD WILKINSON Just five months shy of his 50th birthday, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly, the top decision-maker in this country’s most venerable nature preserve, was tasked to confront a mind-boggling array of controversies, large and small, immediate and long term. On the day we met in the spring of 2019, he was preparing for his first summer deluge of visitors that traditionally commences after Memorial Day. Some 434,000 visits were notched in Yellowstone in May 2019, slightly down from the same month a year ago, which was the busiest May ever. While 2019 saw a 2.3 percent decrease in total number of park visitors from 2018, 725,000 more people came to Yellowstone than just a decade ago. Sholly noted that some things about Yellowstone in summer are not markedly different. “Since my first days here back in the mid-80s, I remember traffic gridlock caused by bison, bears and other animals along the roadside,” he said. “People love this place and that’s not going to change,” he added. “If people weren’t so enthusiastic about coming here, I’d be worried. Fundamentally, the question we need to ask ourselves is how do we continue to give visitors an experience they’ll never forget, while preserving the most important aspects of what keeps Yellowstone a one-of-a-kind place in the world: it’s diverse and interconnected resources.” Talk to local people who live in the region, including those who steadfastly avoid going to Yellowstone in

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summer, and many say its front-country is congested beyond capacity. “I don’t take quite the alarmist’s viewpoint that some people do—at least not yet,” Sholly said. “Let’s put some things in perspective. Traffic moving through a road corridor, which covers one percent of Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres, is not nose diving the condition of the resources, even when it’s bumper to bumper in certain places. That said, there are more visitors here than ever. We need to take it seriously and have an organized approach to how we manage visitors today, and what that might look like tomorrow.” A lot of ideas have been floated, not by Sholly but by citizens: a quota or lottery system that limits the number of people allowed to enter the park on a given day; a public transportation system comprised of shuttles; even monorails. Maybe someday such things might gain traction, Sholly said, but not anytime soon. At current rising rates, Yellowstone could see the number of total annual tourist visits rise from 4.2 million to 6 million in a decade. “I can say unequivocally that we have not strategically managed increased visitor use in this park,” Sholly said. In one of the most extensive visitor-use surveys conducted in National Park Service history, conducted in 2018, 75 percent of visitors to Yellowstone were found to be in the park for the first time. Surprising perhaps to critics is that among those visitors surveyed, well over 90 percent said they had an excellent to very good experience during their stay.


Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly

EXPLORE YELLOWSTONE

NPS PHOTOS/JACOB W. FRANK

going to stop and get out of their cars, take pictures—it’s a bucket-list moment to them and they’re enjoying it. To the angler sitting behind the steering wheel 30 cars back, who has seen thousands of bison, he’s frustrated,” Sholly said. “Reconciling these various forms of enjoyment while protecting the resources successfully is really what visitor-use management is all about.”

Vehicles line up during a bison jam in Hayden Valley.

This raises another question: Who is able to be a better gauge of what the Yellowstone experience should be— those who have been making regular pilgrimages to the park for decades and are dismayed, or those encountering it new with possibly lower expectations? Sholly says it’s important for people who live close by in the tri-state region of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to understand perspectives of the latter. “To those who are here seeing a bison or bear for the first time, it’s a life-changing event. When they do, they’re

Given the wide range of Yellowstone stakeholders and varying interests, he’s under no delusion that it will be easy. And he notes no one is surveying the wildlife, asking it what level of human visitation it would prefer. No other national park in the Lower 48 has the diversity of large mammals Yellowstone does and there’s a reason for that. Most of the park is unfragmented, devoid of huge throngs of people, including recreationists that are rapidly inundating wildlands outside the park, and habitat remains in good shape, at least for now. Sholly isn’t the equivalent of a crusading Captain Planet. He is really akin, in some ways, to a big city mayor dealing with huge infrastructure challenges that often overshadow other priorities.

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Two statistics loom immediately large: Yellowstone’s multi-billion-dollar asset portfolio—its human-built infrastructure—is plagued with a reported $580 million in deferred maintenance. Some estimate that number to be considerably higher than reported, perhaps twice as large. Another stat is rising visitation. Not long ago, Sholly told Montana Gov. Steve Bullock something that park advocates have been seeking for years: “We don’t have a visitor-use-management strategy in this park. We have talked a lot about increased visitation. We’ve done some excellent surveys and social science exercises to get more data. But generally speaking, no one could tell you right now what our strategy is, or what we’re doing to manage visitation more effectively, and that needs to change.”

Park personnel conducted an extensive visitor-use survey in 2018 to better understand how travelers are experiencing Yellowstone.

YELLOWSTONE’S STRATEGIC PRIORITIES

In 2019, Yellowstone National Park released a series of major strategic priorities that will guide shortand long-term decision making in the years to come. They are:

» Focus on the Core: Improve the working and living conditions of the Yellowstone team,

how the park manages its financial resources, and how it works toward the best administrative and operational framework.

» Strengthen the Ecosystem and Heritage Resources: Understand and respond to the effects of climate change, promote large-landscape and wildlife conservation efforts, and protect and improve the condition of Yellowstone’s vast cultural and historic resources.

» Deliver a World Class Visitor Experience: Provide clarity and direction around how

the park will handle increased visitation in upcoming years, with special focus on visitor impacts on resources, staffing and infrastructure, visitor experience and gateway communities. This priority also focuses heavily on improving public safety and resource protection.

» Invest in Infrastructure: Develop a more cogent deferred maintenance reduction plan,

improve the quality of data and prioritization processes, and take better advantage of current and future funding to improve asset conditions and protect investments.

» Build Coalitions and Partnerships:

Continue to build and align priorities with many partners including Yellowstone Forever, the philanthropic community, tribes, elected officials, environmental and conservation groups, concessioners, communities, states and other federal cooperators.

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SNAPSHOT

WILD COUNTRY Montana novelist and short-story writer Wallace Stegner, revered as the Dean of Western Writers, knew how to pen a phrase. Stegner wrote about what he loved—the austere beauty of the American West—and through the poetic power of prose, he carved out his own place among Western authors as an outspoken environmentalist. Writing during a time of rapid change in the west following World War II, Stegner’s works were a rich investigation into the legacy of the West—both a hymn to the Western landscape and close look at its trajectory from mythical past to diminished present and yet hopeful future. “The Sound of Mountain Water: The Changing American West,” is a compilation of Stegner’s essays, memoirs, letters and speeches spanning 25 years of his career. It is in this timeless collection that Stegner reflects on what it means for America to keep wild places safe—as it is in comparison to these wild places that we might truly understand our own humanity. We hope you enjoy these images inspired by Stegner and his “A Wilderness Letter.” – The Editors

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A herd of bison grazes in the Hayden Valley, taking in the early morning sunlight. PHOTO BY LEON LEE

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“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed ... so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it ... we simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.” -Wallace Stegner

White Dome Geyser sprays hot water and steam and into the crisp evening air. PHOTO BY JONATHAN LARSON

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Above: A mighty bison, the U.S.’s national animal, stands proud in amber grasses. PHOTO BY GOUTHAM GANESH SIVANANDAM Below: A grizzly sow, accompanied by two young cubs, surveys the expansive wilds below. PHOTO BY ADAM WILLOUGHBY-KNOX

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Norries Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. PHOTO BY LUFANG CAO


E Y: F LO R A A N D FA U N A

Gift of the Bison

Study shows Yellowstone bison positively affect land NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Biologists from the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Universities of Wyoming and Montana recently learned of the positive effects of bison on the land. The researchers published findings of a 10-year study about bison migration and grazing in Yellowstone National Park in the peer-reviewed journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” in November 2019. The findings confirm that wild bison shape vegetation cycles and enhance growth throughout the summer.

in a growth cycle, providing the most nutritious food for migrating animals. Evidence over the last decade supports that migrating ungulates—or hooved mammals—follow the wave of spring plant growth. Bison begin their migrations by following spring green up but their intense grazing lets them fall behind the wave of spring. “Whereas migratory mule deer closely choreograph their movements so they are in synchronization with the flush of fresh green grass as it moves up the mountain, bison movements are not so constrained. They make their own fresh grass by grazing intensely in large aggregations,” said Chris Geremia, lead author of the study and senior bison biologist at Yellowstone National Park. This behavior sets bison apart from other North American ungulates. 

A bison grazes on the Blacktail Deer Plateau in Yellowstone. NPS PHOTO/NEAL HERBERT

The findings result from a decade of research on Yellowstone bison by National Park Service biologists which included putting GPS collars on bison, setting up field experiments to evaluate plant growth and grazing intensity, and collecting dung and plant samples. Scientists discovered, with the help of NASA satellites, that areas grazed intensely by larger groups of bison greened-up earlier, more intensely and for longer durations each year. The findings also indicate that bison migrate differently than other species because of how they graze, frequently returning to the same areas of the park, which keeps plants

During the study, comparative plots among fenced and grazed areas showed grazing at high intensity delayed plant maturation by stimulating plants to produce new young shoots after being grazed. Bison then frequently returned to graze the same areas, keeping plants growing, although the plants never appear more than a few inches tall. Short, young plants provide the most nutritious foods for migrating animals. “I commend Dr. Geremia and our partners for completing this incredibly in-depth study,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. “These unprecedented findings teach us about the complexities of wild bison and underscore the critical ecological role they play on the Yellowstone landscape.”  The bison population in Yellowstone is one of the only free-ranging populations in North America. Animals migrate more than 60 miles in the park.

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Bison graze in Lamar Valley, known as the Serengeti of North America for its abundant wildlife. NPS PHOTO/NEAL HERBERT

TIPS FOR VIEWING WILDLIFE ON YELLOWSTONE’S NORTHERN RANGE BY CHRISTINE GIANAS WEINHEIMER If wildlife watching is on your wish list this summer, look no further than Yellowstone’s Northern Range. This northern section of Yellowstone National Park has a high density of wildlife combined with wide-open vistas, making it an ideal place to see large mammals and an assortment of other creatures. It is accessible by automobile year-round via the 57-mile route between Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana. At the Northern Range’s heart is Lamar Valley, nicknamed the “Serengeti of North America” for its abundant wildlife. The area is also considered the world’s premier location to see wolves in the wild. You can not only view a wide variety of species here, but also see predator and prey species interacting with each other. “If you’ve never gone wildlife watching in the park with an experienced naturalist, I highly recommend

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you give it a try,” said Zachary Park, director of institute operations for the Yellowstone Forever Institute. “Make sure they bring along high-quality scopes, which can vastly improve wildlife viewing.” Here are a few more tips to help make the most of your day in Yellowstone’s Northern Range:

CHECK ON CONDITIONS.

If entering through the park’s North Entrance in Gardiner—usually the most efficient way to reach the Northern Range—stop at the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth Hot Springs to pick up a map, check on current road and trail conditions and learn of any wildlife closure areas.

PLAN YOUR TIMING. If possible, plan the majority of your outing in the early morning or early evening when most large mammals tend to be feeding and are more easily seen.


E Y: F LO R A A N D FA U N A

PACK YOUR BINOCULARS AND YOUR PATIENCE. You’ll need to steadily and

slowly scan the landscape for movement, taking advantage of the many road-side pullouts along the Northeast Entrance Road. Don’t forget to look up; watch for eagles, osprey and other raptors near water sources.

LOOK FOR ANIMAL BABIES.

Bison calves, or “red dogs,” start making their appearance in April. In May you might also see bear cubs, wolf pups or bighorn sheep lambs. Elk calves are usually the last to arrive, in late May or June.

or after your wildlife-watching drive to avoid hiking at dawn or dusk, when bears are more active. The Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail tends to be a good choice, even early in the season when some park trails are still covered in snow. The easy-to-moderate trail is 3.7 miles round-trip and affords views of the river and surrounding mountains. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep.

TAKE A TOUR. To help you explore the Northern Range, the Yellowstone Forever Institute offers educational tours and other programs ranging from a half-day to several days.

HIT A TRAIL. Inquire at a visitor center or ranger STAY SAFE. Follow park guidelines and stay at

station about trail conditions and plan a hike for before

Elk, born in May and June, are among the many species of wildlife that call Yellowstone home. NPS PHOTO/JACOB W. FRANK

least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards from all other animals. Always hike in groups, make noise and carry bear spray, even on short day hikes. Visit nps.gov/yell for the latest information on Yellowstone road conditions and bear safety guidelines. Christine Gianas Weinheimer is the director of communications at Yellowstone Forever. She lives in Bozeman, Montana, and has been writing about Yellowstone for 19 years.

Wildlife watching is a popular activity in Yellowstone. Park officials require you to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards from all other animals. NPS PHOTO/DIANE RENKIN

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Red-tailed hawks perch in a tree near Hellroaring Creek in Yellowstone’s Northern Range. NPS PHOTO/JACOB W. FRANK

CATCH THE FALL

RAPTOR MIGRATION IN YELLOWSTONE BY CHRISTINE GIANAS WEINHEIMER

Humans have long been fascinated by birds of prey. Their graceful passage through the sky, hunting prowess and impressive wingspans make them awe-inspiring to watch. Luckily for us, a great time and place to see raptors on the wing is autumn in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Gallatin mountain ranges are ideal places to witness the fall migration of hawks, eagles and other raptors, as are the wide-open valleys of Yellowstone National Park. The park’s Hayden Valley is a popular destination to view birds of prey, especially Swainson’s hawks.

Increasingly colder temperatures and shorter days trigger the birds’ instinct to migrate from this area in late August or early September continuing through early October. You’ll see resident birds migrating as well as those passing through on their route between their nesting territories and their winter ranges in the southern United States, Central America or South America.

We asked Brad Bulin, senior naturalist for the Yellowstone Forever Institute, for some tips on viewing the fall raptor migration in Yellowstone and the surrounding area. He said that knowing a little about how birds migrate will provide you with clues as to the best places and times to see them.

The north-south ridges of the Bridger and 96

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“Most raptors migrate during the daytime, when thermals—or columns of rising air—form as the sun warms the ground below,” Bulin said, adding that the birds “ride” these thermals, enabling


E Y: F LO R A A N D FA U N A

RAPTOR GUIDE BALD EAGLE

NPS PHOTO/JACOB W. FRANK

ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK NPS PHOTO/JACOB W. FRANK

GOLDEN EAGLE

AMERICAN KESTREL

RED-TAILED HAWK

SWAINSON’S HAWK

NPS PHOTO/NEAL HERBERT

NPS PHOTO/JACOB W. FRANK

them to conserve a great deal of energy as they gain altitude without flapping their wings. Because air currents rising up the side of a mountain are particularly strong, large numbers of raptors roughly follow the north-south ridges of the Continental Divide as a migration corridor. “Afternoons tend to be better than mornings, after the wind picks up. Right after a storm comes through is probably the best time. During a cold front, the winds blow counterclockwise,” he said. “That north-to-south wind direction is exactly what the raptors need.” When in Yellowstone, he suggests positioning yourself anywhere with a wide-open view of the

NPS PHOTO/JACOB W. FRANK

PHOTO BY ED HARPER

sky. “Hayden Valley, Dunraven Pass, Mount Washburn and Swan Lake Flats are all located along migration routes and are good places to spot raptors,” Bulin said. He advises using binoculars and constantly scanning the sky and ridgelines, as well as tall trees. “If the weather is not conducive to flying— if it’s raining or there’s very little wind—look up in the trees to spot raptors waiting to continue their long journey south.” Want to learn more? The Yellowstone Forever Institute will offer a one-day Field Seminar, “Yellowstone Raptors,” on Sept. 6, 2020. Visit yellowstone.org for details.

explorebigsky.com / Explore Yellowstone

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Fly fishing near Biscuit Basin NPS PHOTO/ JACOB W. FRANK

Yellowstone FISHING PRIMER BY PATRICK STRAUB

It’s been 100 years since the National Park Service was created and its duties include managing the first national park in Yellowstone National Park. Despite the unfortunate recent events—including careless visitors leaving the boardwalk and walking in a sensitive hot springs area—the Park Service’s centennial goes on and we celebrate it as part of our national heritage. In looking forward to an exciting centennial season, local anglers eagerly await the opening of the park’s fishing season on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Many of us will venture to Yellowstone that day and fish the world’s highest concentration of trout-filled accessible waters. The idea to create Yellowstone National Park wasn’t driven by anglers, but it sure could have been given the angling wonders that exist within its boundaries. Miles of accessible waters. Yellowstone National Park is just that—a park, with 2.2 million acres of public lands. Within those boundaries exist hundreds of bends, riffles, pools and undercut banks where four species

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of wild trout and Arctic grayling lie in wait to eat your well-presented fly. A valid Yellowstone fishing permit is required and they can be obtained at most local fly shops. Armed with your fishing permit, some local knowledge and a good sense of adventure, the fishing opportunities in Yellowstone are potentially endless. Clear water options to fish right now. Many of our freestone rivers are high and muddy as runoff peaks, but several fishing options exist in the park. The Firehole, Gibbon and Madison rivers typically run clear during late May and through the summer. In addition to their clear waters, the Gibbon and Firehole flow through geyser basins. Every angler should experience casting your flies near the rising steam of a hot spring or erupting geyser. These rivers are also easily wadeable, making them user-friendly for all levels of wading ability. Dry fly angler’s paradise. The Firehole River flows gently through bends and riffles over much of its


EY: ADVENTURE course. Above Old Faithful geyser basin the river is small and characterized by downed timber and rock cliffs. Below the geyser basin the gradient slows and its currents create an idyllic setting for rising trout and long drifts. Home to abundant populations of mayflies and caddis, the Firehole River is the river to break in a new three-weight rod or work on your reach cast. Despite a few meadow sections, the Gibbon River flows faster than the Firehole. It has plenty of pocket water and riffle corners, ideal for anglers who enjoy fishing attractor dry flies to opportunistic trout. The Madison River, created by the Gibbon and Firehole, mirrors its two source rivers with its respective angling opportunities. Native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Yellowstone Lake opens to fishing in early June and is home to the world’s largest population of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. This species is only found in the Yellowstone River drainage and in the lake—they often cruise the shallows of the lake, making them catchable from shore. As runoff subsides later in the summer, these fish can also be caught in the main stem of the Yellowstone River and its major tributaries, such as the Lamar River, Slough Creek and Soda Butte Creek. Known for their willingness to rise to a dry fly, these fish are as enjoyable to catch as they are unique. Wild angling companions. While fishing on any water in Yellowstone, you’re likely to encounter the park’s varied wildlife. Bison are most commonly seen as they enjoy grazing on the lush riparian vegetation. Elk are often spotted near rivers as well as moose—but be wary of moose as their poor eyesight can cause them to mistake you for a predator. A moose charge is not to be taken lightly.

PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER GUIDES

If you choose to fish in areas frequented by grizzly bears, fish with a companion and carry bear spray. If you do spot a grizzly, give the bear plenty of room and choose another place to fish for the day.

I’ve been fortunate to have fished in several exotic locations—for massive brown trout in Patagonia; tigerfish in southern Africa; bonefish, permit and tarpon in several Caribbean locations; and for steelhead and salmon in Alaska. They’ve all burned permanent memories in my angling psyche; however, the most vivid memories occurred two hours from my home in Yellowstone National Park. Patrick Straub is a 20-year veteran guide and outfitter on Montana’s waters and has fished the world over. He now writes and manages the social media for Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures. He is the author of six books, including Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.

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A male bison surveys his surroundings in Yellowstone National Park. PHOTO BY BRANDON WALKER

FOR FUTURE

GENERATIONS The importance of preserving America’s wild lands BY BRANDON WALKER

Growing up, my idea of Yellowstone National Park was

gathered watching TV at my grandmother’s house. I had no idea I’d eventually set foot on the same soil as the elk, bison and wolves that mesmerized me as a child. I went 23 years without visiting any of the 62 national parks in the U.S. Born and raised in a small Vermont town, I attended a state college less than an hour away, returning to my high school alma mater for my first “real” job. Maple syrup, small towns and the low-lying mountains of Vermont were all I’d ever known. It was time to explore outside the Green Mountain State. Realizing Ohio was the farthest west I’d traveled in the continental U.S.— coupled with the fact I could count the number of states I’d visited on my own two hands—was the metaphorical push I needed. I narrowed down potential landing spots to Alaska, which I had visited the previous summer, and Montana, a place I’d never experienced. The unknown along with encouragement from friends and family led me to hit the road toward the Treasure State. On my first trip to Yellowstone my party was on the way to a trailhead when we spotted a massive bison clopping down the road in the oncoming traffic lane. Large clouds billowed from his nostrils as he exhaled the cool morning air, ignoring our vehicle trailing behind him. The fond childhood memories of Yellowstone that I’d

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gathered from a TV screen materialized before my eyes. Scott Christensen, interim executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, defines Yellowstone this way: “I just feel like Yellowstone is one of those places that has the ability to really influence people and their awareness,” said Christensen, whose organization began protecting Yellowstone and its surrounding ecosystem in 1983. “It just grabs you.” Within a couple weeks, I was headed to the park boundary to meet a friend for an evening hike. We witnessed a breathtaking sunset and shared some laughs. My appreciation for the park is founded on abbreviated but rich moments like these. For me, it isn’t merely a matter of what you see but who you’re with. “There’s over 420 units in the national park system across the U.S. and they really create a space to kind of reconnect people to wild places and … the story of America,” said Northern Rockies Associate Director Stephanie Adams of the National Parks Conservation Association. “[Yellowstone is] one of the largest intact ecosystems that we have left in the world—especially in the U.S.—and it really creates, sort of the heart of this landscape.” For over 100 years, the NPCA has focused on the goal of preserving and advocating for our national parks, from their more than 20 offices throughout the U.S. “One of our goals is to really make sure


EY: ADVENTURE that you’ve got this group of people that continue to advocate for national parks and really see them as something that’s valuable and something that’s important to preserving large landscapes,” Adams said. As summer faded, I knew the park’s primary season was nearing its end. The next trip we made was a tour of Yellowstone’s Northern Range. The terraced thermal features, scorched earth and steaming craters were more otherworldly than the TV programs could ever convey. Driving to the northern entrance, we passed groups of elk and made our way through the infamous Roosevelt Arch. I vividly recall wondering why I had never dreamed of visiting this incredible place before. “To be able to have a job where I get to spend time and energy trying to ensure they stay that way—they stick around—I feel really, really fortunate,” Christensen said describing his deep passion for Yellowstone and similar ecosystems. We spent the night near the town of Gardiner and the northern boundary of

A geothermal stream flows through a valley in Yellowstone National Park. PHOTO BY SKYLER BOYD

the park. The following day we made our way to the Boiling River, soaking in the steaming water, reminiscing about the summer’s adventures. The final trip of the season, my friend and I took advantage of a fleeting, warm fall evening to hike—albeit with snow on the trail. As we walked, we viewed three lonesome bison in a sprawling meadow. They provoked thoughts of when the meadow would’ve been filled with other ungulates. I felt gratitude for the unchanged landscape—and hope it remains unchanged. “I think that’s one of the great things about Yellowstone … people can go there and experience it and connect with it and come away with a much greater awareness of how their decisions, wherever they are in the world, impact a place that they care about,” Christensen said.

“I think that’s one of the great things about Yellowstone … people can go there and experience it and connect with it and come away with a much greater awareness of how their decisions, wherever they are in the world, impact a place that they care about.” Everyone, even future generations, should have the same opportunity I had: To seek out adventures and gather memories, be it in Yellowstone, another national park or the vast public lands in America. “So many species that live in Yellowstone need to spend time beyond park borders and a lot of those lands that are private are facing increased human development,” Adams said. Christensen echoed this sentiment: “The simple fact is that if you want to continue to have healthy wildlife in Yellowstone, you’ve got to do a lot of work outside of Yellowstone to make sure that that habitat stays intact,” he said. It took me 23 years to finally visit a national park—others may need longer. We need to preserve what we have, so eventually we all may enjoy it. I’m overwhelmingly grateful that such places exist. While the memories I’ve collected in Yellowstone and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will differ from the next person’s, I hope we can preserve the wonders of this earth. “I think with Yellowstone really being America’s first national park, it’s such an incredible opportunity for us to show how you can have this large landscape where it’s actually conserved,” Adams said. Yellowstone was designated as the first national park nearly 150 years ago. The question before us remains: How much longer will places such as Yellowstone exist? Their fate is up to us. explorebigsky.com / Explore Yellowstone

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Backpackers hiking into the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone NPS PHOTO/ JACOB W. FRANK

The Road Less Traveled

HIDDEN TRE ASURES OF AMERICA’S FIRS T NATIONAL PARK BY BELLA BUTLER Roaming bison, spouting geysers and mineral pools ablaze in color, to name a few wonders, have drawn crowds in the millions to Yellowstone in recent years, making it not only the country’s first national park but also one of its most visited. Yet, there are roads less traveled to explore within the 3,000-plus square miles of preserved magic. Here are two of our favorites. SUMMIT MISSION: OBSERVATION PEAK The vistas from Mount Washburn’s summit are unmistakably beautiful, but it can be hard to see in its entirety through the swarms of other visitors vying for a view. If you’re up for a longer day (9.6 miles out and back), opt for the less popular Observation Peak. The first part of the trail, which gets the most traffic, cuts through vibrant meadows, eventually arriving at the alpine sanctuary of Cascade Lake. Bring a plant guide and enjoy a snack while identifying wildflowers. Since trail traffic thins out beyond the lake, you’re likely to spot more wildlife as you continue toward the peak. Keep your eyes peeled for raptors, rodents, ungulates … and don’t forget the bear spray! From Cascade Lake, pace yourself wisely on the 1,400-foot climb to the 102

summit. Along the ridge, an old burn affords generous vistas interspersed with whitebark pine forest. On the 10,413-foot summit, a relic of early 20th century Yellowstone overlooks the Gallatin Range and the Hayden Valley. The fire lookout, built in 1939 by the National Park Service and Civilian Conservation Corps, remains a reminder of the flames that swept the region throughout the 1900s. BLACK CANYON BACKPACKING Coursing through the northern reaches of the park, the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone is a marvel reserved only for those willing to travel on foot or by hoof. The approximately 18.5-mile, point-to-point trail requires a car shuttle and a recommended three days. The Black Canyon is also one of the best early season overnight adventures thanks to its lower elevation.

“TWO ROADS DIVERGED IN A WOOD, AND I— I TOOK THE ONE LESS TRAVELED BY, AND THAT HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.” -ROBERT FROST

explorebigsky.com / Explore Yellowstone


Beginning at the Hellroaring trailhead, the moderate trail descends to a suspension bridge that crosses the Yellowstone River. Meandering through lowland sagebrush, the first few miles are a great introduction to Yellowstone’s Northern Range, which is known for its high concentration of wildlife. The second day features quintessential canyon bottom views and riverside hiking.

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The Park Service advises that hikers take diligent notice of park and private property boundaries while exiting the canyon in Gardiner, Montana. Anyone planning on camping in Yellowstone’s backcountry must obtain a permit for each campsite and pay a fee. More information on permitting, as well as planning backcountry excursions, can be found at nps.gov/yell.

Abandonded Fire Observation Station at the summit of Observation Peak, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Backpackers descend the trail toward the Yellowstone River in the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone.

PHOTO BY JOHN MARINO

NPS PHOTO/JACOB W. FRANK

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Hot dog on a stick? Camping recipes for the (sorta) outdoorsperson BY SCOTT MECHURA

PHOTOS BY RILEY BROWN

Look at you. It’s mid-summer and it’s your first camping trip of the season. You’re standing behind your car, arms folded, admiring your packing handiwork. It’s a mix of old and new: your treasured gear you’ve repaired time and time again mixed in with this year’s new items: that fancy new two burner stove and your brand new 20-degree sleeping bag. Your grandfather’s famous tent. Then you look in your cooler. Yep, I’d be embarrassed too. Suddenly a few items stand out as you realize what you packed for food items, if you can call them that. A sad pack of hot dogs sits in the corner, a can of baked beans and some soggy cereal boxes for the kids soak in the melting ice. You’ve got the usual. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Camping is supposed to be where you escape the routine, get away from it all. Why not use the downtime at your campsite to liven things up a bit? Show off your kitchen know-how under a Montana sunset and wow your friends. Here are a few recipes to get you started for your first overnight trip with tasty meals. 104

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RECIPES

Breakfast, day one:

The Elvis Serves four

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour 1 cup milk 2 eggs ½ teaspoon baking soda 4 very ripe bananas 1 tablespoon soft butter ½ teaspoon cinnamon ½ teaspoon nutmeg 2 tablespoons brown sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla 3 tablespoons coconut oil 1 jar of your favorite peanut butter •

Combine all dry ingredients and place into plastic container or sealable plastic bag. Combine wet ingredients into separate container or plastic bag.

When that cool crisp morning comes, combine wet ingredients with dry in a bowl and spoon into a hot pan with cooking oil. Flip once the first few bubbles break. Remove from pan and spread peanut butter on top while still warm.

Pro tip: The key to most successful camp cooking is the pan. Use Teflon or cast iron. Cleaning cast iron is simple: scrape excess food and debris and dispose of properly. Then turn upside-down and place over the campfire. You can leave until morning. A couple drops of oil and a paper towel it’s ready for use again.

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Lunch, day one:

Montana Cristo Serves four

8 ounces ham 4 ounces goat cheese 8 slices sourdough bread 3 ounces huckleberry jam ½ stick butter 6 eggs ¼ cup milk Salt and pepper

Recipe requires a nonstick pan.

• Whisk together eggs and milk, add salt and pepper to taste. • Spread goat cheese on one side of four slices of bread. Spread huckleberry jam on one side of the other four slices. Evenly divide ham among four slices of bread. Press sandwiches together. • Gently melt butter in nonstick pan. Dip both sides of sandwiches into the egg and milk mixture. Place in pan with melted butter and cook one side until golden brown. Flip and repeat. Slice and enjoy.

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Dinner: day one:

Ultimate steak and potatoes

RECIPES

Serves four

4 each favorite rib eye steaks 3 each russet potato sliced thin ½ cup clarified butter or cooking oil (not olive oil) 1 bunch carrots, small to medium ¼ cup honey 2 teaspoons thyme leaves Coarse salt and pepper Recipe requires two cast iron pans and aluminum foil.

Season steaks and set aside. If cooking directly in campfire, slice carrots in half lengthwise, season with salt and pepper and wrap in aluminum foil. Nestle in the coals to side. If cooking on grill, season carrots with drizzle of oil, salt and pepper, and place directly on grill. Cook carrots until tender throughout, cooking one side until almost black.

Place both cast irons in coal or, heat to medium-high on burner. Add drizzle of clarified butter or oil to steak pan. Add remaining butter or oil to other pan. Add steaks to pan once hot. Add potatoes to other pan with majority of butter or oil, laying in circular pattern, overlapping by half in two layers. Sprinkle with thyme, spreading evenly over top. Season with salt and pepper. Remove carrots from heat and drizzle with honey.

You now have the ultimate camping steak and potato dinner. The crispy potatoes with thyme add a wonderful contrast to roasted or grilled carrots with the sweetness of the honey and some natural burnt sugars. And rib eye in cast iron is a match made in heaven. explorebigsky.com / Explore Yellowstone

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Breakfast, day two:

Back to Reality Frittata Serves four

It’s the last day, which means it’s time to wake up and pack up. But you still need to start the day right with breakfast. Here’s an easy one. ½ diced onion 1 bell pepper 2 cups leftover ham from lunch ¼ cup milk 6 eggs 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese Salt and pepper to taste •

Stir together all ingredients and pour into your cast iron pan. Cover this pan with foil and place in the morning coals or over a low burner. Bake until it doesn’t jiggle and enjoy. Take one last look at the mountains and head back to reality. Next weekend, rinse and repeat.

Scott Mechura has nearly four decades of experience in hospitality, from mountain lodges to private clubs in Big Sky to the Texas Hill Country, Mexico and Idaho. He has opened prime steak houses and boutique hotels, and has cooked in top echelon kitchens of fine dining restaurants in the Twin Cities.

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Fort Belknap THE POWER OF EMPATHY

BY JESSIANNE CASTLE

hen I close my eyes, I can see the brilliant yellow of rabbitbrush in full bloom. They’re sprinkled along the sides of a quiet two-lane highway when late summer has already dried the grass rolling across the hills. We’re stopped to stretch our legs on the road from Big Sky, Montana, to Fort Belknap in the northcentral part of the state. It’s funny, the things you remember; the moments of your life that etch themselves somewhere in the pockets of your memory. I remember, too, when a tall man asked me to roll up my sleeve. His eyes smile as he brings his forearm close to mine. I see my brown freckles, faint across my wrist. I see my arm, the color of wheat bread, and his, a subtle cinnamon. He points out that we have slightly different colored skin and that he’s taller than I. He gestures to his face and says our eyes are a little different too. Both are brown, but his are shaped like almonds, whereas mine are round. I’m suddenly very aware of the blonde in my hair. “You’re from Montana,” he says. The man’s name is Junior. “I’m from Montana.”

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NOW: REPORTS

I met George “Junior” Horse Capture in Hays, Montana, a community on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation tucked within the buttes of the Little Rocky Mountains. The meeting was by design: the Mountain Outlaw crew threw a dart at a map of Montana and hit Fort Belknap in our search to discover the stories and people of the Treasure State. After a string of phone calls from my kitchen table, I reached Junior and he kindly invited me to visit his home. Junior is the community’s tourism director and runs Aaniiih Nakoda Tours where he shows visitors the community’s bison herd, wildlife and scenic landscapes. He guided us by car through Little Peoples Canyon—commonly known as Mission Canyon—as he told us his story. “Accidental timing means everything, I guess,” he chuckled. Junior is a member of the

Above: Jennings Barmore (left) and Jessianne Castle (center) speak with George “Junior” Horse Capture on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Horse Capture is the tourism director for Hays, Montana. Below: The tracks of the Hi-Line, near Dodson, Montana, stretch toward a setting sun. The railway gave the northern Montana region its colloquial name. OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTOS

Aaniiih—Gros Ventre or White Clay—tribe. He was born in Butte, the son of late Native activist, curator and scholar George P. Horse Capture. They moved to California after George Senior served four years in the Navy and enrolled in a Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation program that sent him to welding school in the San Francisco Bay area. When Native activists occupied Alcatraz for 18 months beginning in 1969, a teenaged Junior and his father joined the protestors. The 1960s and ’70s, Junior says, was an exciting time to be young. Cesar Chavez, the Black Panthers, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army. “I never knew seeds were being planted,” he says. “Then you think, ‘What is changing my view of things?’ It’s the seeds, growing.” When Junior decided he was ready to set out on his own, he moved to the Fort Belknap reservation where his father had spent his childhood, and for Junior it was a kind of homecoming. I watch trees pass from view as we drive along a narrow gravel road and I listen to Junior’s voice. We’re entering the mouth of the canyon and aspens shake their fiery orange and yellow leaves, a breathtaking display against the backdrop of ochre limestone cliffs. Peoples Creek burbles alongside the narrow gravel road. It’s a place where the land shapeshifts, where golden sunlight dances in vast green hayfields and then slips into crooks and folds of the blue-hued Little Rockies. I can see why the Nakoda—or Assiniboine—and Aaniiih Nations of Fort Belknap describe this land as the closest place to heaven you can get.

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REPORTS

A bridge offers a U.S. Highway 191 crossing over the Missouri River.

unior has worked on and off as a guide since coming to the reservation, and also served as the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council Vice President from 2013 to 2017. “I love people. I love different cultures,” Junior says. After his council term ended, he was asked to serve as Fort Belknap’s director of tourism, and in this position he hopes to welcome visitors to the reservation and exchange stories with them as a way of bringing cultures together. “My people’s history, your people’s history is different, but it’s not that different,” he says as the car slowly climbs a hill, nearing the end of the road. “Sure, we have our immense problems, but so does the rest of Montana. So does the rest of the world.” The vibrancy of the landscape follows me as I leave Hays, having bid Junior farewell. I drink in the quiet charm of the Little Rockies as we skirt the mountains, headed north on State Highway 66. I grew up surrounded by great ranges such as the Spanish Peaks, Bridgers and Gallatins, with heights that stretch and snarl up into the sky, but the Little Rocky Mountains give me pause. They’re intimate, an elevated sanctuary on the Great Plains horizon. I recall the brief time we spent in Saco, baptized by sulfate-rich water at Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs. I 114

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think of our overnight stay in Harlem, population 850, just north of Fort Belknap, where a wave of yellow sunflowers filled the front yard of the little Sunflower Cottage where we passed the night. At the Harlem grocery store, a friendly woman at the checkout told me that Harlem has struggled like other rural towns—both Native and non-Native—along the Hi-Line, a geographical area stretching across the northern reaches of Montana. The Hi-Line is heavily agricultural, known for intense weather extremes, and seemingly has been ignored as regions like the Greater Yellowstone continue to blossom and boom. Since 2010, the population of Blaine County, where Harlem sits, has grown a mere 2.9 percent, compared to Greater Yellowstone’s Gallatin County, which has experienced a 27.8 percent population increase. Meanwhile in Phillips County, which encompasses the southeast portion of Fort Belknap, the population has shrunk by 7 percent. Are these communities, rich in culture, rich in experiences of a past life, at risk of blinking out? The woman at the grocery checkout was hopeful. She’s seen young adults who went away for school move back to start families in recent years, and they’re coming back to share the rural lifestyle with their own children.

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I think on what Junior told me about the strengths of the Fort Belknap community, that his people are resolute. “I think it’s the resilience that comes from all the different adversities that we were forced to go through,” he says. I close my eyes and I’m back in his car, listening to his story. “We have hurdles to overcome, but I don’t think they’re impossible because even in my short life of 61 years, I’ve seen a lot of hurdles be overcome,” he says. He tells of a diner he and his father used to frequent when they’d visit Havre. George Senior always insisted on eating at the same table, facing the same wall. One day, Junior asked his father why. “His reply to that was, ‘When I was young, and when I lived in Havre, right there,’ and he pointed at the wall in front of him, ‘there was a sign saying, no dogs, no Indians allowed.’ This was a victory, we were allowed into a place where we weren’t, once upon a time,” Junior says. He chuckles. “So, I could put up with mediocre food at that place. In my mind, [knowing why] made that food a little bit better.” As the reservation’s tourism director, Junior hopes to garner more community buy-in to develop the region’s businesses and tourism as a necessary way to bolster the economy— and break down the cultural walls erected by previous generations. “There are entrepreneurship opportunities like a son of a gun. Unfortunately, racism, fear, those types of things really get in the way. We’re in the same boat now. We’re Montanans. We are part of humanity, and what I want for my grandkids—I’m sure every other older person in the state of Montana wants the same darn thing—is there to be a good, secure future for them.” Junior reminds us that we all share common values and by recognizing these values: understanding each other’s needs and strengths and our own humanity, maybe that can be enough to secure a future for Montana that makes us proud.


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M T O U T L AW. C O M / MOUNTAIN Montana | Colorado | Utah | CENTRESKY.COM | 406.995.7572

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PONDERING

the

‘Next Big One’ BY TODD WILKINSON

When COVID-19 erupted, the media flocked to Bozeman, Montana’s David Quammen who had predicted it in a book. In this interview with Todd Wilkinson, he discusses the multitude of ways human and economic health are cued by the environment.

or a science writer who has spent much of his career exploring the innerworkings of the natural world—and understanding the origins of ecological disasters—David Quammen derives no solace from having his warnings proved right. Be it witnessing the loss of species as part of the sixth major extinction episode, which may now be underway, or being deadly accurate in predicting a disease event like this year’s COVID-19 epidemic, Quammen makes no claim to wielding clairvoyant power. Nor, for that matter, is he interested in writing Chicken Little “the sky is falling” jeremiads. The simple explanation, relating to what informs his critically acclaimed work, is that he listens to what the best scientists on the planet have to say—many of whom have told him directly—and then translates it so the public can understand. Growing up in Cincinnati, Quammen, 72, came to Greater Yellowstone as a young man after graduating from Yale and then as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, not with a penchant for science writing but as an aspiring young novelist who paid the rent by working as a Madison River fishing guide and bartender in Ennis. Eventually, Outside magazine enlisted him to write a regular column, “Natural Acts,” and both his interest and esteem took off from there. Now writing regularly for National Geographic, he’s counted among the finest nature writers of our time. >>

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hen it comes to groundtruthing, he’s been no desk jockey. Conducting field research for his book The Song of the Dodo, Quammen visited with residents of the jungle where not long before a number of people had died mysteriously from eating primates as bush meat. It turns out the animals were infected with Ebola. He’s also ventured into bat caves in Uganda where epidemiologists believe the ultra-deadly Marburg virus lives. He did it with spacesuit-like protective gear, the same kind seen in Contagion, the Hollywood portrayal of a disease outbreak not altogether different from COVID-19. The fact that Quammen lives on a quiet street in Bozeman and has made the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem his chosen vantage for pondering the big picture should cause us to perk up and pay attention when he says there’s no place to escape global environmental issues. In fact, he can’t think of a more poignant setting in America for considering the intersection between humans and nature. His 2012 book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, vaulted again in 2020 to bestseller lists after the novel coronavirus rapidly spread from a wet market in China where wildlife are sold for consumption. The book astutely predicted it would happen. Like everyone else, Quammen was sheltering in place and engaging in social distancing when Mountain Outlaw caught up with him.

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TODD WILKINSON: How is COVID-19 any different from what the Black Plague, polio and smallpox brought to the “New World”? DAVID QUAMMEN: A direct flight from Wuhan to San Francisco takes 10 hours. That’s one big difference, for starters. Polio and smallpox are not zoonotic diseases—only humanborne viruses—and therefore they can be defeated. Bubonic plague is caused by a bacterium, therefore treatable with antibiotics. Smallpox in the New World, brought by Europeans, was the greatest infectious-disease disaster that we know about, and the fact that we don’t know more about it is a tragedy of lost and suppressed voices. TW: If you look at a few of your last books, Song of the Dodo, Monster of God, Spillover, and The Tangled Tree, what do they represent in terms of your own interests as an inordinately curious human and science writer? QUAMMEN: Interesting question, and thanks for asking it. Those four very disparate books do in fact have at least one thing in common. They reflect my deep and longstanding interest in ecology and evolutionary biology. Dodo: ecology and evolution on islands, and what that study has taught us about ecology and evolution, generally. Monster of God: ecology and evolution of big predators, especially the ecological relations between them and indigenous populations of humans. Spillover: ecology and evolution of scary viruses. The Tangled Tree: an evolutionary history of the Tree of Life. TW: In Song of the Dodo, which is generally about island biogeography and why species on “islands” of various kinds go extinct faster, the topic might appear wonky. Yet it is, in fact, exciting because it really explores how humans interact with and use the environment around them. How did the book grow out of reflecting on your own home region?

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I’M A DARWINIAN MATERIALIST, NOT A SHAMAN. BUT I BELIEVE THAT THERE ARE ECOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES TO ECOLOGICAL DISTURBANCE, AND ONE OF THOSE CONSEQUENCES IS NEW VIRUSES GETTING INTO HUMANS. QUAMMEN: You’re right that the subject matter of Dodo—island biogeography—sounded wonky to many people when I started work on the book in 1988. But I knew that the phrase carried beneath it one: stories of strange animals and plants, natural wonders and prodigies, giant flightless birds, pygmy hippopotamuses, giant earwigs and all manner of weird living critters in faraway places, and two: profound relevance to conserving biological diversity in wild landscapes, especially landscapes that have become fragmented by human development, and populations that have become perilously isolated, surrounded by humanity, and therefore at risk of falling below the numbers level of a viable population. I knew from the beginning that this was about lemurs in Madagascar, giant tortoises in the Galapagos, but also about the survival of the Yellowstone grizzly. TW: What do we take for granted about Greater Yellowstone? QUAMMEN: One thing we take for granted is what I just mentioned, what researchers Frank and John Craighead told us back in the late 1960s: the grizzlies of Yellowstone, to survive for the long haul, need more than Yellowstone Park; they need the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.


NOW: Q&A

During a collaring operation in Yellowstone National Park, David Quamman inspects the fur of a sedated gray wolf. Radio and GPS tracking collars provide valuable information to the Yellowstone Wolf Project’s biologists about pack movements, diet and prey interactions. This photo was taken on assignment for National Geographic Magazine’s May 2016 issue, written by Quamman, dedicated entirely to Yellowstone National Park. It was the first time in the magazine’s history that a single author had written an entire single topic issue. PHOTO BY RONAN DONOVAN

TW: There is a strong thread flowing through Song of the Dodo that extends into Spillover and it is the warning that fragmentation of ecosystems and disturbances that accompany human inundation of wildlands are not only costly from a biodiversity perspective, but also dangerous. Could you riff a little on this? QUAMMEN: Where do I start? When you come in contact with wild animals, which all carry viruses, you invite those viruses to infect you. Usually they don’t but sometimes they do. When you demolish a richly diverse forest ecosystem, as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s like what happens when you bulldoze an old barn: viruses rise like dust from the wreckage. I don’t believe in the myth of “Nature’s Revenge”; I’m a Darwinian materialist, not a shaman. But I believe that there are ecological consequences to ecological disturbance, and one of those consequences is new viruses getting into humans. TW: You’ve spoken about the toll of smallpox on indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere. When you ponder the impact, what is important to note? QUAMMEN: When people move and they move their livestock, diseases move too. Europeans coming to North America was one of the great, tragic movements of conquest. Me and my Norwegian-American ancestors benefited.

Smallpox and measles were two of the weapons. We owe. TW: Many reporters reaching out to you for interviews about COVID-19 ask you what keeps you up at night. And you gently have said what’s more important is that people become educated about why pandemics occur and do what they can, or advocate that governments act in better ways, to prevent and confront them. What are some of the most essential things individuals and governments can do? QUAMMEN: What keeps me up at night occasionally … and it doesn’t happen often, is one: deadlines for highly ambitious projects and two: sciatica. Oh, and on the night of July 4: neighborhood fireworks in Bozeman. What can governments do? Jeez, well they can start with listening to scientific warnings much better than most governments did in the case of COVID-19 and spending the money and political capital necessary to create effective national preparedness against pandemic threats and international coordination of preparedness. What can people do? Inform ourselves better, discover what’s meant by critical thinking, vote more intelligently. TW: Over the course of your life, have you noticed any social patterns that have set up or deepened? QUAMMEN: I don’t think there’s more fear of nature. I think there’s a sad and deepening fear among many people, well justified, about what we’re losing. I dread being alive in a world, coming soon, where we scarcely see insects in our yards anymore. Where hummingbirds never appear at the bee balm flowers. Among other people, there’s a distance from nature. Among people who work in agriculture, especially our fine, hardworking Montana ranchers and farmers, there’s a closeness to nature but a resentment that their interactions with it are to some degree regulated by laws, and those laws are passed by distant strangers, sometimes for very good reasons and sometimes not. >>

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and other countries of Central Africa since early February. What happens when their case numbers start to rise? They have some wonderful scientists, for instance Jean-Jacques MuyembeTamfun in Congo, and some wonderful medical people. But they don’t have the resources to cope with this thing. TW: Let’s discuss our species. We are not separate from nature, we are a product of it. When you think about the predominate traits of Homo sapiens, our instincts and behavior, what are they and can we ever escape what Richard Dawkins describes as our self-destructive proclivities? QUAMMEN: Humans are driven to reproduce, expanding their existence, their influence and their genomes in space and time. Richard is right about that because he is a good Darwinist at his core—whether you accept his Selfish Gene thesis in its most literal form, or less so. Viruses are also driven to reproduce, expanding their existence, their numbers, their presence across space and time. But unlike viruses, humans are smart and can be wise. Most often we’re just hungry and smart.

Quamman watches a small group of wild chimpanzees amidst a community of subsistence farmers in Bulinda, western Uganda. He wears a mask to keep both the chimps and himself protected from disease spillover. Quamman was on assignment for National Geographic Magazine covering the challenges the arise when humans and wild chimpanzees live in such close proximity. This article will publish in National Geographic’s August 2020 issue. PHOTO BY RONAN DONOVAN

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TW: We are currently focused and dealing almost singularly on COVID-19, and some use war analogies for confronting it, as if this is a one-time event that needs to be vanquished. But you and others have pointed out that it’s possible to have several different emerging viruses at once. Has that ever happened and how would you assess the response to this novel coronavirus? QUAMMEN: It’s certainly possible to have two serious virus spillover problems at once. As the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who have been dealing with an Ebola outbreak in their eastern Kivu area for almost two years, and who now also have to cope with COVID-19. I’ve been worried about Democratic Republic of Congo

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THIS VIRUS IS A RESOUNDING MESSAGE ON THE FRAGILITY OF THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC SYSTEM, WITH ITS AXIOM THAT GROWTH IS GOOD AND FUELS INCREASED WEALTH AND THEREFORE INCREASED HUMAN WELFARE.


NOW: Q&A

RECOMMENDED READING Books by David Quammen

TW: Ecological resilience in an age of decades ago. So far there’s no solid evidence that climate change: Why does it matter and what CWD infects humans, but we know it’s terrible do we need to do to help protect it in Greater news for our deer and elk. Yellowstone? TW: You could write from anywhere but you QUAMMEN: For ecological resilience we are a resident of Greater Yellowstone, a person need maximal biological diversity. To have who lives here because of extraordinary access that, you need sufficient space—space that to the great outdoors. The thinking was that consists of good habitat. If your ecosystem after Greater Yellowstone passed through the The Tangled Tree (2012) contains big fierce animals and you want to natural resource extraction era and moved to a continue containing them, you need big space. tourism economy, that we were bulletproof as TW: What does the word “Anthropocene” long as we didn’t mess it up. But coronavirus is mean to you and do you buy into it? Your pal shattering that notion. Ironically, it’s Greater Ed Wilson has referred to it as a surrenderist Yellowstone as a global destination that has mindset in which fragmentation becomes increased our vulnerability. QUAMMEN: The tourism economy is better rationalized and justified. And he says we for conservation than the traditional resourceshould protect 50 percent of the planet as a extraction economy, but not without problems preserve. Spillover QUAMMEN: I love Ed [Wilson] dearly and contradictions itself. Right now we have (2012) and admire him to the skies. I’m currently neither economy. This virus is a resounding functioning as editor of the select Edward O. message on the fragility of the global economic Wilson works to be published in two volumes system, with its axiom that growth is good and by the Library of America. I don’t always agree fuels increased wealth and therefore increased with him on every point, but I don’t argue human welfare. Population growth, population those few points in public. I think it would size and the rate of our consumption are the be great if we could protect 50 percent of the monkeywrenches in that model. planet for nature but it’s difficult to see how to TW: Too many people doing too many things get there, and of course whatever answer there overwhelming natural areas? Monster of God might be must be fully respectful of human QUAMMEN: Human population size, and (2003) rights, especially the (historically muchthe growing consumption generated by it is the abused) rights of indigenous people. There’s ultimate driver of all our worst problems and the no inherent paradox there because indigenous destruction of so much diversity and beauty. people traditionally lived at low population TW: COVID-19 is not the super-lethal “Big densities, and in relative harmony with the One” that decimates Homo sapiens. What is the rhythms and products of nature. Big One? TW: When we enter and pummel a QUAMMEN: In Spillover, I talk about the “Next rainforest like the Amazon or tropical central Big One.” This is a Big One. There will be more Africa, disturbance exposes us to viruses and unless we are far better prepared next time. These The Song of the Dodo (1996) we in turn can expose wild country to our viruses are knocking on our door. Why? Because viruses. What are your concerns related to there are 7.7 billion of us humans. We have made Greater Yellowstone? ourselves the “World’s Biggest Target.” QUAMMEN: The issue of disturbance and habitat loss TW: And, finally, what are some favorite creature comforts and fragmentation with Greater Yellowstone is not about during social distancing? emerging viruses. There are many reasons we need intact, QUAMMEN: As of May, I haven’t been in a building other than robust, richly diverse ecosystems, and minimizing the chance our house for a month. But dog-walking, always important, of humans acquiring new viruses is only one of them. On is more important than ever. Betsy [Quammen’s wife and the other hand, the arriving of Chronic Wasting Disease in author of the new book: American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God Greater Yellowstone brought in by migrating deer is a sad and Public Lands in the West] and I share a quiet cocktail hour and sobering reminder that infectious disease is an ecological each evening, again with the dogs (no cocktails for them, phenomenon, and human actions often help to spread it as only butcher bones) and usually Bach or Albinoni. Later at they did with the original emergence of CWD into wild night, for me, it’s Guy Clarke, Louis Armstrong or the late cervids, probably from a sheep-holding corral in Colorado and missed John Prine.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF CENTER FOR BIOFILM ENGINEERING, MSU - BOZEMAN

BOZEMAN’S MICROBION

IS FIGHTING TO SAVE LIVES Inside the war on antimicrobial resistance

This is a story on a war of epic proportions, one that improbably begins with entities you can’t even see. On a global basis, the enemy, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, is killing people every minute of every day, and by 2050, antibiotic-resistant infections are projected to become the world’s leading cause of death, killing at least 10 million people each year while also dealing a cumulative $100 trillion blow to the world economy. Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even dubbed one particularly dangerous group of bacteria as “the nightmare bacteria.” Known by the acronym CRE, it is impervious to almost all currently approved antibiotics, and infections result in a high rate of death—regardless of the patient’s age or health status. Thankfully, awareness of their threat is growing. According to a Pew poll published in April 2020, Americans now rank the spread of infectious diseases as the No. 1 global threat to humanity, ranked even higher than the risks posed by nuclear weapons, terrorism and climate change. For good reason: Bacteria cause millions of life-threatening infections in people each year, and are so remarkably adaptable they thrive in almost every environment on Earth, including some of the most inhospitable reaches of the planet. In a form we now know as “bacterial biofilms,” they even inhabit the steaming, acidic pools of Yellowstone National Park and the deepest trenches of the oceans, an environment with intensely crushing pressures, where neither light nor oxygen penetrate. It should come as no surprise then, that bacterial biofilms are able to persist for long periods of time in hospital environments, naively thought to be total medical safe havens. As if the terrestrial fitness of bacteria wasn’t enough to give pause, their success in space has also been notable, as biofilms

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were apparently “rampant” on the Russian space station, Mir. It was determined that bacterial biofilms were to blame for eating away at both the functional and structural integrity of the Russian space station. They are similarly a challenge on the International Space Station. It’s an astonishing reality that the microgravity conditions present in outer space actually stimulate biofilm formation, which is the bacterial response to almost any form of stress. An urgent question arises: What is a biofilm, and how do biofilms pose a risk to people? “In essence, when bacteria detect a surface, whether living or inanimate, they immediately adhere to it and form a biofilm,” said Dr. Brett Baker, a resident of Big Sky, and founder, president and chief scientific officer of Bozeman’s Microbion Corporation. What happens next, explains Baker, truly humbles any horror flick: After forming a biofilm, the level of antibioticresistance increases up to several thousand-fold, encasing large numbers of bacteria in a plastic-like polymer substance that acts as a bacterial protective shield. Worse, because of a high mutation rate fostered by biofilms, they develop antibioticresistance rapidly. “Biofilms are now known to cause most infections caused by medical devices, which account for the majority of deadly infections acquired in hospitals,” stated Baker. “The National Institutes of Health has stated that up to 80 percent of all bacterial infections are biofilm-related. Our growing awareness of bacterial biofilms represents a very recent revolution in the science of microbiology.” Prior to the year 1990, less than 50 scientific papers were published on the subject of biofilms and infectious diseases, yet from 1990 to the present day, a search on Medline results in over 14,000 scientific papers relating biofilms to infectious diseases and antibiotic-resistance. Montana plays a central role in this story. The term biofilm was first coined in the late-1970s, when Dr. Bill Costerton, former director of Montana State University’s Center for Biofilm


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Engineering (CBE) in Bozeman, made landmark discoveries already present in the upper respiratory tract opportunistically as to their biology and functionality. Until Costerton infected patients whose lungs were damaged by viruses, and introduced biofilms to the world, the science of microbiology it was the bacterial infection that often proved deadly. Now, had essentially been unaware of this challenging and highly according to Baker, newly published COVID-19 research is resistant form of bacteria. Leadership of the CBE was then suggesting that history may be repeating itself. One recent passed to Dr. Phil Stewart who led the Center until 2015, and paper on COVID-19 reported that 50 percent of patients in was named an MSU Regents Professor in 2019—he authored the study suffered from bacterial superinfections. Similarly, more than 185 up to 55 percent of the deaths from the H1N1 peer-reviewed pandemic of 2009 are attributed to bacterial Brightly pigmented biofilms grow in Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring. publications on superinfections. biofilms which As communities around the globe battle the have been cited COVID-19 viral pandemic, fear and uncertainty more than 40,000 have gripped every facet of life, shuttering times, making him doors, stalling economies and bringing the most-cited humanity to its knees. According to Baker, one researcher at MSU. way to help reduce the risk of death during a Biofilms are viral pandemic is through the development known, for instance, of innovative to play a significant antibiotics and role in lifeanti-infective threatening bacterial strategies, lung infections that preventing and can occur when patients are placed on mechanical treating bacterial ventilators. Ventilator-associated pneumonia, or superinfections. VAP, represents a life-threatening risk, for instance, Pandemics present for patients placed on mechanical ventilation in the an urgent need COVID-19 pandemic. for both antiviral In 2008, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the raspy-voiced and antibacterial medical professional at the forefront of publicdrugs. The mission A scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of Staphylococcus aureus facing expertise during this evolving crisis, of Microbion is biofilm attaching to a cotton gauze hospital dressing. PHOTO published a paper that found “the vast majority” to prevent the COURTESY OF CENTER FOR BIOFILM ENGINEERING, MSU - BOZEMAN of deaths from the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 (as deaths caused by well as the pandemics that occurred in 1957 and antibiotic-resistant 1968), were actually caused by secondary bacterial infections, bacteria and their biofilms—whether during pandemics, or also known as “bacterial superinfections,” which formed a during non-pandemic times. deadly combination with the underlying viral infections. Some Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections kill over 700,000 estimates put 50-100 million dead worldwide from the Spanish people each year on a global basis, and we are witnessing rates Flu pandemic. In his paper, Dr. Fauci strongly recommended of antibiotic-resistance continue to mount. Even a brand new that to effectively prepare for pandemics, it is critical to ventilator can be rendered useless in this fight when antibioticdevelop antibiotics resistant bacteria form biofilms on the internal surfaces of the to treat the deadly ventilator. This can lead to portions of biofilm breaking off from bacterial infections the tubing to be breathed in, lodging deep in the patient’s lungs. that accompany That’s where Microbion’s team comes in, working as widespread viral tirelessly as the bacteria they hope to thwart, to advance safe and infections, in effective therapies to overcome bacterial and fungal infections, addition to the including those caused by biofilms—in other words, the same development of types of life-threatening superinfections that have increased the vaccines and antideath toll in all pandemics over the past over 101 years. viral drugs. “We live in a microbial world,” Baker emphasized. Consistently “Bozeman is truly at the center of solving some of the world’s during viral most pressing infectious disease challenges. We are making pandemics over the ground-breaking advances in biofilms and antibiotic-resistant last century, viruses pathogens, to prevent or reduce their impact on human health.” were not usually Visit microbioncorp.com for an executive summary of a white the primary cause of paper detailing improvements in technology and the death. Instead bacteria effects of biofilms in this latest pandemic.

By 2050, antibioticresistant infections are projected to become the world’s leading cause of death, killing at least 10 million people each year

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INTO THE

BIG BURN REMEMB E R I N G T HE G RE A T FIR E OF 1 9 1 0 BY JESSIANNE CASTLE

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ENGULFED. RAGING, WHIPPING, BOILING. A HURRICANE OF FIRE.

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The burn locations from the great fire of 1910. The infamous fire, which ravaged northern Idaho and western Montana, is commonly referred to as the Big Burn.

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written on the pages of history, when dry weather met with fierce wind and mortal hubris to cause the great fire of 1910, commonly known as the Big Burn. Violent flames torched some three million acres in northern Idaho and western Montana during the wildfire’s 36-hour peak on August 20 and 21, 1910, transforming the green hues of white pine, tamarack, larch, aspen, fir and cedar—all virgin timber—into a darkened, singed and gnarled skeleton of a forest. For the men charged with protecting the country’s newfound pride that were the national forests at a time when Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Gifford Pinchot were writing the definition of conservation and public land, stopping the fire was unthinkable. “Many thought that it really was the end of the world,” wrote “Big” Ed Pulaski, a Forest Ranger stationed between the St. Joe and Coeur D’Alene rivers in northern Idaho at the time of the Big Burn. The words of Pulaski, after which the famed and eponymous firefighting tool was named, were published in a 1923 article he penned for the magazine American Forestry. “Under such conditions, it would have been worse than foolhardy to attempt to fight the fires. It was a case of saving our lives.” >>

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THE FIRESTORM T H E S I T U AT I O N L E A D I N G U P T O T H E A U G U S T

blowup was a perfect storm. A good snow year yielded way to severe drought that summer, sucking every drop of moisture from the forest, turning the mountains into stands of tinder. Timothy Egan, author of 2009’s The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, described from his research that the desiccated forest was akin to walking on potato chips. Rainless thunderstorms, new forest settlements and red-hot cinders thrown by coal-powered trains bringing progress to the West added insult to the already injured forest, igniting flareups throughout the summer months. According to one report by the U.S. Forest Service, the largest single contributor to the Great Fire was the new Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound Railway, which sent trains from Tacoma, Washington, into Idaho along the St. Joe River and into the dense Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho-Montana border en route to Chicago. Miraculously, forest rangers, many of whom were working their inaugural season with the five-year-old fledgling government agency, were able to hold their own for a time, stymieing the scattered flames just a little longer in hopes the fall rains would come early and bring salvation. They were to protect the national forests at a time in land-management history when wolves and grizzlies had been eliminated and the only thing left in the woods to fear were the fires. And it was thought wildfires would be eliminated, too. But wind slammed into the Northern Rockies on the afternoon of August 20, 1910, stirring the summer’s accumulation of residual smoke, embers and flickering flames until the very mountains themselves were fueling the force. Canyons and valleys became funnels for the fire-choked air, and suddenly a wall of flame was on the run. “In a matter of hours, fires became firestorms, and trees by the millions became exploding candles,” reads the Forest Service report from the disaster. The fire killed enough timber to fill a freight train 2,400 miles long. The Big Burn ran from central Idaho east into Montana, west into Washington and north into British Columbia. On August 21, the sky was so dark ships 500 miles off the Pacific Coast couldn’t navigate by the stars. Smoke reached east into New England, and soot fell on the ice in Greenland. Light rain and snow checked the flames overnight on August 23.

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IN A MATTER OF HOURS, FIRES BECAME FIRESTORMS, AND TREES BY THE MILLIONS BECAME EXPLODING CANDLES,”

“IN A MATTER OF HOURS, FIRES BECAME

FIRESTORMS,

AND TREES BY THE MILLIONS BECAME

EXPLODING CANDLES.”


CULTURE: HISTORY

Above: A pine forest on the Little North Fork of the St. Joe River, Idaho, after the fire. Below: Wallace, Idaho was destroyed by the 1910 fire. PHOTOS COURTESY OF U.S. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

GHOSTS IN THE FOREST THE FIELD OF FIRE ECOLOGY HAS SINCE

ENDURING THE FLAMES FOR THOSE CAUGHT IN THE TINDERBOX 11 DECADES AGO, surviving the wildfire was largely a matter of circumstance. The Big Blowup killed 78 firefighters and nine civilians directly, and more succumbed to smoke inhalation and flame exposure in the weeks and months that followed. Many residents of Idaho and Montana’s mountain towns evacuated at the last hour and were saved. The Forest Service called in men from far reaches of the U.S. on the promise of regular pay in exchange for fighting forest fires alongside some 500 rangers employed nationwide. Untrained and underequipped, the crews would never be enough. On August 7, President William Howard Taft sent 2,500 Army troops to aid the desperate Forest Service; among them were the African American 25th Infantry, known as the Buffalo Soldiers. The men of the 25th saved the town of Avery, Idaho, and successfully evacuated women and children from Wallace, Idaho, while other mining towns burned to the ground. While the 25th hauled water buckets, set backfires and endured a mad dash inside a scorching-hot train, fire crews grasped for life on the front line. Some firefighters sought refuge in mine shafts and creek beds and survived. Others were pinned by burning trees, trapped in the same creek beds that gave salvation to their comrades. Others still were burned beyond the point of recognition or suffocated in the wave of flame. Those who lived, hunkered in tunnels, creeks and the white ash of backfires, were next faced with making it home. They wandered in a singed wasteland, knowing each footfall could land on hot coals or sink into ash, and they clambered over still-smoldering logs. Their survival became a victory call for the Forest Service. The rangers were American heroes and if they had just had more the forests might have been saved. More men, more money, more training. And so launched an era of intense fire suppression in America.

expanded management practices and the Forest Service no longer embraces dousing every wildfire. Researchers now understand that some fire is actually good for the ecosystem. It recycles nutrients and aids in developing plant communities, says Yellowstone National Park fire ecologist Becky Smith. Pointing to stands of trees in Yellowstone that experienced more recent wildfires in 1988 and 2016, she says, “You can see how diverse the landscape will be.” Today, the mark of the 1910 burn is still apparent in northwest Montana, even 110 years later. Ghosts of the trees that survived the fire are gray-backs—no longer living but still standing in memory—in a regrown forest of lodgepole, larch, white pine and spruce. And the tales of those who lived through the Big Burn continue to shape our understanding of fire, in fact fueling a surge of support for the National Forest System and the conservation ideal. Certainly, those who stride today through mountain land, those who admire the wild heart of the Northern Rockies, are beneficiaries of that great wildfire, for of the flames and ashen forest was borne newfound passion for wild land. Perhaps we are here today because of it. For Jessianne Castle, writing is a conduit for experience. She is a freelance writer and editor who was born and raised in Montana and pens stories about her home in the West.

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Fine Art, Furniture & Jewelry

JULY 18-19, 2020 Virtual & Live Event The Plaza at The Wilson Hotel | Big Sky, MT

bigskyartauction.com

A selection of works for this year’s auction; all items subject to prior sale or removal

Shelly Bermont Rare Silver Keshi Pearls, 18kt Gold Beads & Clasp


Jake Mosher, Milky Way Over Beehive Basin During Summer 43x62x2, Matted and Framed

Jim Dick, Drama on the Prarie Original Oil, 36 x 36

J. Bradley Greenwood’s Sagamore Entry Table


BIGFOOT IN SEARCH OF

Call it Yeti, Wendigo, Chuchuna or Sasquatch, you’d better believe there are believers BY EDNOR THERRIAULT

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Something is killing the deer in Pattee Canyon near Missoula, Montana, and that something is doing some crazy things with their bones. The southeast corner of the Missoula Valley is teeming with whitetails and the odd mulie, and they do share the habitat with a few predators, from mountain lions and coyotes to the occasional wolf. Black bears also roam the forests of the canyon, but they’re highly unlikely to kill an adult deer and Pattee Canyon is quite a ways from Montana’s grizzly recovery zones. Brian “Duke” Sullivan claims to have seen evidence of predatory behavior that has never been displayed by the animals known to live in the area. There’s only one explanation, he claims: It’s Bigfoot.

ILLUSTRATION BY KELSEY DZINTARS


CULTURE: HISTORY

Sullivan, a slender, bespectacled Minnesota native who established the Facebook group the Montana Bigfoot Project, stumbled upon a puzzling sight a few years ago in this part of the Lolo National Forest that’s drawn keen interest from Sasquatch hunters. For years, Bigfoot researchers have discovered lodgepole pine and other small trees bent over for no apparent reason, or yanked from the ground or broken off and stacked in crisscross patterns. Sullivan and other Bigfoot buffs believe these arrangements serve as a kind of communication between the mythical creatures, either marking their territory or sending some other kind of message or warning. It could be, he says, simply a sign to identify their clan. What Sullivan witnessed a few years ago in those woods, however, sparked a new set of possibilities for the inveterate Bigfoot hunter: he spotted an animal skeleton arranged on a tree limb 14 feet off the ground. “There was no meat on the bones when I found it,” he reported. “It must be a marker of some kind; there’s no reason for anything to put it there.” Sullivan is convinced that the Sasquatch population thought by some to live in Pattee Canyon are living off deer, and apparently using their bones to communicate with other Bigfoots (Bigfeet?). “If you see one,” he warned, “it might be the last thing you ever do see.” In 1976, the FBI investigated. Spurned by a letter and hair samples from Peter Cochran, Director of the Bigfoot Information Center in the city of The Dalles, Oregon, FBI officials took to the lab. “The examination included a study of morphological

characteristics such as root structure, medullary structure and cuticle thickness in addition to scale casts,” wrote Jay Cochran Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Scientific and Technical Services Division. “It was concluded … that the hairs are of deer family origin. The hair sample you submitted is being returned as an enclosure to this letter.” Over the last 50 years, more than 10,000 Bigfoot sightings have been reported in the U.S., one-third of them coming from Oregon, long considered prime Sasquatch country for its dense, heavily forested terrain and a relatively sparse human population. But sightings have been reported all over: In 2018 Marion, North Carolina, population 7,800, named Bigfoot the town’s “official animal,” and its third annual WNC Bigfoot Festival is scheduled for September 2020. More than 70,000 believers attended the first two events. Bigfoot has faded from the headlines recently, the occasional beef jerky or car insurance commercial notwithstanding, but every couple of years or so there’s mini-frenzy over a sighting. A series of photos captured in January 2020 by a Washington state Department of Transportation highway-cam depicted a large, humanoid creature apparently striding across a snowbank above Highway 20. Turns out it was a plywood cutout, painted black and fastened to a tree. While reports of Bigfoot encounters may have slowed, there has been no such drop-off in the number of people who continue to search for the mythic creature. It’s just a matter of time, say the hardcore Bigfoot devotees, before we accept that the giant beast lurks in the woods. At this point, though, we’re still waiting for irrefutable evidence, any tangible proof that this tall, smelly, hairy hominid of folklore actually exists. When nearly every square mile of land on the planet has been photographed, mapped, measured and scrutinized, is it possible that an entire species of ape-like creatures has escaped detection? Hannah Davenport thinks so. “As good scientists,” Davenport says, “as people who are conducting good and true science, we need to work at proving that something doesn’t exist in order to prove that it does. I’m pretty sure that’s how we proved black holes are real, by working to prove that they weren’t real.”>>

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Davenport received her degree from Montana State University in archaeological zoology, and her interest in Bigfoot research was encouraged by another scientist, Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a foot morphology expert from Pocatello, Idaho. “Jeff is great in that he is openly doing research in a university capacity, and he’s starting to draw a little bit of attention because it pulls that stigma away. There are so many scientists not giving out funding to scientists who want to do research on Bigfoot, where they’re not letting articles get published in academic journals because they don’t think it’s worthwhile. [It’s] just unfortunate because, as scientists, we’re trying to be objective.” A self-professed “Bigfoot nerd,” Davenport grew up in Wisconsin where she had a firsthand encounter with the creature, but kept it to herself for years. “I had a sighting when I was in high school and I didn’t tell anybody about it until I was in my 20s because I was so afraid that people “...as people would think that I was lying, or that who are I was doing it for attention.” When conducting she finally told her family about good and true her experience, her grandfather confessed that he, too, had seen science, we a Bigfoot when he was a young need to work man and had kept his secret for at proving that decades. “He never talked about it,” something Davenport said, “because he was doesn’t exist in very much of a generation where order to prove you don’t talk about it. You don’t that it does.” bring it up.” Pete Wilson is happy to bring it up. After moving to Montana and founding Sasquatch Watch of Montana in 2012, Wilson has dedicated much of his time to following up on reports of Bigfoot sightings throughout the state. And he found his own Bigfoot hotspot in Montana. “I did quite a bit of research time on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, and spent a few years investigating in Poplar.” The town of Frazer, located in the southeast corner of the reservation, was also the site of multiple reports. Wilson dutifully followed up but ultimately came up empty handed. “Nothing was found but I had an interesting conversation with a ranch hand in the area,” he said. Wilson declined to reveal the subject of the conversation but hinted at paranormal activity, another of his interests. While the number of Bigfoot reports is dwindling in Montana, Wilson says the creature 132

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is just really good at hiding. “Normally they’re curious about humans but prefer to keep their distance,” he said. “They’ll know you’re there long before you know they’re around.” Wilson has heard tree limbs being knocked together deep in the woods, and had rocks thrown at him from an unseen creature. He adds that Sasquatches are nocturnal, mostly active between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., although many sightings have been reported outside this oddly specific window. Once in a while a Bigfoot story generates headlines in Montana, illustrating the bizarre fascination we continue to have for the elusive cryptid. In December 2018, a man reported to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff that a hunter who claimed to have mistaken him for a Bigfoot took shots at him. The victim confronted the shooter, who suggested that the man wear hunter orange if he was going to be in the woods. Another even more shocking story made national headlines in 2012. Randy Lee Tenley of Kalispell was killed after being struck by two cars on U.S. Highway 93. He was wearing a ghillie suit—a fringed camouflage covering favored by snipers. According to authorities, Tenley had been attempting to generate rumors of a Sasquatch sighting, reportedly standing in the road when he was struck in quick succession by two vehicles, each driven by a teenage girl. Not surprisingly, alcohol may have been a factor in the accident, news reports read. Although most of 2020’s Bigfoot conventions were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of conferences sell out across the country every year, a clear sign that interest in the mysterious giant primate that leaves behind nothing but ginormous footprints and powerful B.O. isn’t going to wane anytime soon. Sightings go up in summer when more people are in the woods tramping through Sasquatch territory, which, coincidentally, is considered to be exactly the same as bear habitat. Researchers like Hannah Davenport will continue to boil down hard data that may one day reveal a new species, while investigators like Pete Wilson keep following up on stories about sightings and encounters in Montana. As for the rest of us, well, next time we go for a hike, we might leave the beef jerky locked in the car. Ednor Therriault is a freelance writer and musician living in Missoula. While he hikes frequently in Pattee Canyon, he has yet to encounter a Bigfoot.


Whiskey, women, Butte and bootleggers

“The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.”

Such words comprised the chorus of “Temperance,”

an 1874 tune sung by thousands of 19th and early 20th century American women protesting a rampant culture of hard boozing, upheld mostly by men of the era. Drinking, the women of the Temperance movement believed, threatened the very soul of a nation, one where God himself might turn on a people surely destined for greatness. Through decades of bitter objection, those crusaders successfully outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the U.S., a prohibition that lasted 14 years between 1920 and 1933.

with new types of criminals: silver-haired mothers busted with hooch stills in their basements, and young women, with bobbed hair (a most controversial gesture), frequenting the speakeasies sprouting up like Montana wildflowers. Indeed, women came to dominate the illegal channels for bootlegging forged by the 18th Amendment, and not only in Butte but also in middling cities across the nation. In trying to restore a sense of morality, Temperance proponents had achieved quite the opposite, leaving ample room for apples within their Garden of Eden. Tangentially, equilibrium to the social hierarchy had been instated—women no longer drank in the privacy of their own homes, but rather joined men at dance halls, breweries and “blind pigs,” with their elbows on the bar and a foot on the brass rail below. Their peals of laughter and fizzy conversation would have drowned out any memory of “Temperance” sung sweetly on street corners, church halls or sewing circles. They may have even thanked God for that. ***

Female bootleggers often shed any semblance of femininity, adopting clothing styles reserved for men— and in some instances, firearms to defend their business.

“Indeed, women came to dominate the illegal channels for bootlegging forged by the 18th Amendment, and not only in Butte but also in middling cities across the nation.”

Ironic, then, that Butte, Montana’s women—not the men—resisted the order with overwhelming uniformity, defying the supposed wishes of a god who ruled them as much by divinity as an assumed masculine gendering. Already known as a “wide-open town,” where drinking, gambling and prostitution were a way of life, Butte’s Silver Bow County courts were accustomed to arraigning men with swollen knuckles and blackened eyes from inebriated bouts at local saloons. And there were hundreds of proving grounds scattered across the Mining City, always ready for thirsty patrons remerging from their respective damp, copper-filled holes. But during Prohibition, area lawmen found themselves faced

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In Merrilee Kick’s

Dallas, Texas office, a framed certificate looms above the entrepreneur’s desk, reading “Family Temperance Pledge” in ornate, black lettering set against stained-brown-with-time paper. A list of 12 motives to abstain beholds its slogan: “Believing it to be better for all, we, the undersigned solemnly promise, by the help of God, to abstain from the use of all intoxicating drinks as a beverage.” Finally, a lined section for signatures consumes the bottom-third of the frame. Appropriately, considering Kick’s line of work, there isn’t a single signature. “I think it’s funny how much my life came full circle from my great grandparent’s generation,” Kick said, speaking of the Temperance Pledge she discovered folded in a bible she inherited from her great grandmother. “They never drank any liquor—I’m talking no booze ever—and if you drank, they thought you were a sinner. Look at us today!”


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One wonders: What would Kick’s ancestors think if they knew she founded and headed an alcohol business worth hundreds of millions of dollars? No doubt, being Montanans of the Prohibition Era, they had a natural distaste for the intrepid, sip-stealing, gender-redefining ladies of Silver Bow County. Kick’s story, at its essence, isn’t unlike the bootstrap female entrepreneurs of 1920s Butte, who capitalized on a window of opportunity to better one’s financial positioning—and in a male dominated industry no less. Her more immediate roots are surely responsible for the resolve. Merrilee (Alexander) Kick was raised on a farm in the rural, abandoned mining town of Austin, Montana, some 10 miles west of Helena where her parents worked as schoolteachers. They made enough to pay the bills but never had money to buy the frivolities flaunted by her classmates, like Adidas and Nikes, nor lunches with Wonder Bread and Twinkies. The Alexanders lived off the land, sewing their own clothes, harvesting the farm’s eggs, cows, chickens and hogs, sometimes killing deer for extra meat and batching beer and chokecherry wine in Rubbermaid tubs. “My mom was rather creative, making something from nothing, and as kids we occasionally drank her wine and beer,” she said. “It wasn’t great, but it gave me a buzz, so I liked it. There was no money to buy that sort of thing anyway.” More than two decades after graduating from high school in Helena, and then college at the University of Montana, Kick found herself needing to draw upon her self-sufficiency after a marriage of 20 years was on the brink. Terrified by the prospect of being broke, and with nothing more than a high school teacher’s salary as support, Kick moonlit a master’s degree through Texas Woman’s University hoping she could create a business to save her family. One day, while grading papers by a pool and pondering her master’s degree—with the obligatory cocktail in hand, of course—an idea struck. “I was feeling guilty about having glass by the pool. It dawned on me: wouldn’t it be really cool if I could make a party ball with enough booze to get me a buzz, but in a round, plastic container?” The concept, a spirits-based, ready-to-drink beverage that was individually packaged in round, plastic containers, would serve as her TWU thesis project. Kick never could have imagined what would come next. After starting the company and a year of moderate regional sales, her brainchild, BuzzBallz, quickly evolved into a top selling product in the industry after the Tequila Rita flavor earned a unanimous Double Gold Award from a 50-judge panel at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America conference hosted in Las Vegas. There is no higher rating, and the wholesale orders from various states poured in. Smack in the middle of the Great Recession, no less. Have no doubt, it needed to hit—all of Kick’s money, including $50,000 from a bond her parents had cashed in, were at stake. Tirelessly, her two sons worked by her side. Kick even put up the family farm’s cows, her car and home equity as collateral for a loan. Fast forward 10 years, the marriage is saved and the whole family works for the company. A vertically integrated business

with 140 employees matured in the process, boasting some 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space where every piece of the process—batching, filling, label approving and printing, packaging, shipping—takes place. That includes the production of her proprietary plastic bottles that biodegrade in four years as opposed to well over 1,000 years needed for typical plastics. The process costs a little more, Kick admits, but the mitigated impact to the environment is worth it. She cares, a fact evident in every corner of her business, including the free daily lunches and free massages for all employees thanks to an in-house chef and masseuse. Her success was, to some degree, disadvantaged by her gender from the outset, but Kick nonetheless broke into an arena mostly reserved for men, where liquor industry business deals often consist of late nights drinking, joking and talking about sports and women—a saloon culture carryover that didn’t faze her and allowed her off-color sense of humor and natural born confidence to flourish. Monetary success is just one example of proof. Kick has also parlayed her early accomplishments into a number of spinoff ventures, notably Crooked Fox Blended Bourbon, aptly named after a former employee that tried to rip off BuzzBallz and take the concept to a competitor. A lawsuit swiftly checked his overstep, securing her invention and turf. “After all that, I created Crooked Fox, and it has just enough smoky flavor to it, with Merrilee Kick, CEO. a soft finish and no PHOTO COURTESY OF SOUTHERN hard burn,” Kick said CHAMPION SPIRITS wryly, recounting her satisfaction of explaining the Crooked Fox pseudonym to the infringing former employee, noting his namesake product would surely make her life more comfortable. You see, Kick plays fair and hard. She earns her keep, and it’s her spirit, one that defies odds and norms, that propels her. “I created a brand out of nothing with no clue how to do it,” Kick said, smiling and leaning back in a chair below the Temperance poster. “It’s the same story with the women in Prohibition Era Butte. They didn’t know how, but they went out and did it … Nobody’s going to hand it to you.” We’ll drink to that.

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CULTURE: TALES

stops The sky pulled out all the the for our visit to the top of world: Fossil Lake. Y

STLE PHOTO BY GABRIEL PRIE

BY HOLLY PRIESTLEY

It was breezy during last night’s dinner, but Fossil Lake calmed down as the sun disappeared. There was no wind, no rustling animals or sound off the water all night long. It was a magical, almost deafening silence (especially for a #VanLifer who sleeps in Walmart parking lots on occasion). Our family of six dreamt in perfect peace in three tents spread out across the tip of the peninsula we called home for the night. I’ve always been an early riser and waking in a tent allows me to rise with the sun and watch the world come alive. Unzipping the forest green rainfly, I could see the lake surface mirroring the sky and reflecting back the pristine gold and light blue hues. The wind was calm and nothing created ripples on the surface. Time stood still just for me and I soaked up the magic that I knew would soon be interrupted. Sitting at 9,700 feet, the chill in the air caught my breath and the mountains ringing the lake shielded the sun’s rays from warming up our camp that morning. There was nothing on the horizon behind the mountains that encircled Fossil Lake and it felt like we’d slept on top of the world. The water’s surface only broke when Gabe, Terry or Randy caught a fish with his fly rod. This was our first

annual family backpacking trip that included fishing breaks and—since I don’t fish—reading time for me while the others searched for the perfect fly cast. This place was different from other camp spots on this trip: no trees were taller than me, no waterfalls, no neighbors. Fossil Lake, one of hundreds of lakes in the Beartooth Wilderness, is a series of “fingers” that fill in gaps between peninsulas of high-alpine terrain. it. No animals rustled in the bush behind my old Marmot tent, no deer or bighorn sheep along the cliffsides, not even a hawk or eagle in the cloudless sky. This was day four of five and we weren’t in a hurry to leave our station on top of the world. Water boiled on its own time and we sipped through our morning slowly. The fishermen again casted for cutthroat. My sister-in-law and I took up our books and the mutts wandered back and forth between the five of us, ensuring their pack were all accounted for. We took our time. So would you if you woke up in a postcard. Holly Priestley is a writer who lives in her 1997 Ford Van with her pup and travels the western U.S.

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CULTURE: TALES

Cars wait to pass through the North Entrance into Yellowstone National Park. In the background, Park Street and the town of Gardiner look on. PHOTO COURTESY OF GARDINER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

At Home and Out of Place A Yellowstone gateway town resident reflects on tourism

I remember standing outside Kellem’s Saddle Shop in Gardiner, Montana, shoulder-to-shoulder with Carol Kellem as we watched them pave over the dirt parking lot. Until that summer of 2016, the dusty roads and obscure store fronts were more of a pit stop than a destination for visitors on their way to Yellowstone National Park.

BY DARIA UPORKSY

It felt like paving over the dirt would also efface the beloved, gritty culture of the town. With a distant look in her eyes, Carol said she wasn’t so sure she belonged here anymore. A few years later, I sat in the back of the shop with Carol, surrounded by tables of leather-working tools and piles of scraps. Carol had not left Gardiner but every year she planned on it. Perhaps she held onto a previous version of her home. That day, I listened to her describe what used to make this little gateway town so special. “It was the Wild West, but in a good way. It was fun, uncorked.” Carol smiled. Light brown waves of hair framed her gentle face and a silk scarf splayed out loosely from the top of her blouse. “It could be the middle of the day, but you would still stop before walking past the saloon door.” A safety measure, she explained. “You had to carefully peer inside the Two Bit before walking by to make sure no one was gonna fly out of it!” Carol giggled, recalling the rowdy locals who at any moment might take a brawl into the streets. “And ‘Space Mike’—that’s what we called him—would shoot out the street lights at night. They’d put a new one in and he’d shoot it out … There were the old timers ...” She paused. “They’ve all passed on. >>

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“There were the horn hunters, too, who were looking to get elk antlers from the park.” Carol looked over at me. “That’s illegal, you know. And, there were the transients. They weren’t dangerous, they just didn’t fit in. I was part of that group.” Carol and her husband Les came to Gardiner 35 years ago by fate. Without a particular destination in mind, they packed up their newborn daughter, some horses and what few belongings they owned, and drove west from South Dakota. Perhaps it was the unique mix of folks in the little town. Maybe it was the mountains that hug Gardiner, lending it detachment from the rest of the world. Either way, newcomers often sense that they done stumbled across a lost world. And Les and Carol felt right at home. But it’s all changed since then. I asked Carol how she would describe Gardiner these days. “It’s just,” she said at last, “It’s just a place.” We fell into a moment of silence as if to pay our respects to a loved one who passed. I ask her if tourism is at fault. Carol thought about it. “In a way, I suppose so. I never thought of it like that before, but that is why people are staying—just to get a piece of the pie. It used to be you had to be a

little crazy to move here. Now I’m just amazed tourists go up Tom Miner to watch the bears. Those little dirt roads are not meant to be traveled that heavily.” Tom Miner Basin, just north of Gardiner, was discovered a few years back as a prime spot for viewing grizzly bears. It had previously been a quiet patchwork of ranches and wilderness. Now there are hoards of cars and tour buses mobbing it from May through October. I went up there one late summer day in 2018, shortly after I learned the area had become a tourist attraction. The crowd was bigger than I imagined. I stayed in my car and watched as ranchers passed by, their faces hardening as they approached. Then they would stomp the gas pedal, spinning the tires and sending dust clouds billowing as they drove out of sight.

It was the Wild West, but in a good way. It was fun, uncorked.

Above: Carol and Les in their saddle shop in Gardiner, circa 1995 PHOTO COURTESY OF CAROL KELLEM

Below: Park Street, Gardiner in 2009

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I asked if the store had felt the economic impact. “I suppose so. I make money, but in a different way,” Carol said. “We used to serve the needs of locals more than the tourism crowd.” Callie Kellem, the younger of Carol’s two daughters, was quietly listening while she tooled a scrap of leather. “This is a two-fold answer,” Callie offered. “There is more money to be made now, but the people who want to live here and support the local economy year round cannot afford to do it.” What would this mean if, given the current public health concerns, tourism crowds in Gardiner diminish into the fall and beyond? A short time later, I sat in my truck outside the Kellems’ shop. I looked down the street at dusty cowboy hats and lassos hanging from store fronts, mimicking an authenticity of yesteryear. Gardiner is no longer just a gateway to adventure in the park, it’s become a destination itself. But the wild landscape, the thing that keeps people like Carol here, is at risk. Turning the steering wheel, I watched the elk dutifully gnaw away the native plants installed around the paved lot. This was not part of the plan, I mused.

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Daria Uporsky is a professional writer and amateur nature photographer based in the foothills of Western North Carolina. She has been traveling to Montana for over a decade, and now considers it her “home away from home.”

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SECTION: SUBHEAD

As musicians from Montana and Cuba bridge a cultural gap, they teach us about finding common ground and friendship BY EMILY STIFLER WOLFE

Doug Wales was still the marketing director at Bridger Bowl Ski Area when he was detained by the Cuban police. It was May Day, 2013, in Santiago de Cuba, where hundreds of thousands march for International Workers’ Day. Wales had packed up his recording equipment and drums after Bridger closed for the season, heading to Cuba on a “cultural research visa” to interview playwrights, artists and musicians about the effects of the U.S. embargo on their culture. “I really just wanted to go down and play with Cuban street musicians,” he admits. Two years earlier on his first trip to Cuba, Wales had met some of Santiago’s prominent musicians

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and artists, and they’d invited him to march in the parade. But when he showed up the morning of the event, a policeman approached. After a broken exchange about his business in Cuba and his visa, which he’d left in his room, Wales ended up in the emigration office, where he recognized the plainclothes officers sitting across from him. “All this time I was aware I was being followed, that people were paying attention to me, but never really how much,” he said. The cops quizzed him about Cuban musicians and asked what Montanans thought of then-Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Finally, five hours after he was picked up, the captain asked Wales to describe the Cuban people

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in three words. His response was his ticket out: “Intelligent, passionate and traditional.” Wales, 63, has now visited Cuba seven times, and what started as one man’s adventure has grown to something much larger. Bringing together dozens of musicians in both countries, the Montana-Havana Bridge Project has produced music in Cuba and Montana, and through remote digital recording sessions. KGLT Community Radio in Bozeman released the group’s first song on July 25, 2015, the day the Cuban Embassy opened in Washington, D.C.; they’ve since completed 10 songs and have 10 more in the works. The project speaks to friendships forged through music making, the


CULTURE: EXPLORE

human need for freedom of expression, and the capacity for art to bring us together during a time of great polarization. Because recording continues whether they’re in the same country or not—Cubans cannot legally travel to the U.S., and it’s not exactly easy for Americans to get to Cuba—this kind of social bridge feels all the more relevant in a world where physical distancing is part of the lexicon. “We are trying to generate new material that talks about the relationships between us … the traditions and the things we like about the other country,” says Jake Fleming, a prominent Bozeman musician who plays in and co-produces the group. >>

Above: The Montana-Havana Bridge Project is a band of Cuban and American musicians led by Bozemanite Doug Wales. While Wales (in green shirt) has been to Cuba seven times, many of the group members have only played together through virtual recording sessions. Below: The group recorded the song “Cuban Taxi” during a 500-mile cross-Cuba road trip, launching with lyrics and a concept, and expanding on it as they met more than a dozen musicians from five towns. PHOTOS COURTESY OF DOUG WALES

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Clockwise from left: Co-producer Jake Fleming of Bozeman jams in the street with one of the group’s lead musicians, Aquiles Jorge. Jorge has performed classical guitar music for the Castros and the King of Egypt, but says, “My heart is with Rock n Roll.”

CULTURE: EXPLORE

Cuban reggaetón phenom Raynier “El Médico” Griñán joined the project in 2017, bringing his large fan base in both Cuba and Europe. The group has collaborated with indigenous Cuban musicians descended from the pre-Columbian Taíno people (pictured here), as well as Native American singer, drummer and activist Shane Doyle of the Crow tribe.

hey call the music Cubusa, a portmanteau of Cuba and USA pronounced “Koo-boo-sa.” The “genre,” if you can call it that, is wide ranging. Classical flamenco guitar curls into tantalizing Salsa rhythms and highenergy Reggaeton, which melds, in turn, with Native American singing and drumming, Hendrix-esque electric solos, and powerful female vocals from both Cuban and American singers. Their YouTube videos show how important music is to Cuban culture—that in fact it is the culture—from street and traditional dance to choreographed performances by the internationally renowned Cutumba folkloric troupe. Cubusa works in part because of Cuban music’s pluralistic roots. The polyrhythmic percussion inherited from the Congo and other parts of West Africa, plus the melodies from Spain and Francophile Haiti fuse easily with many music genres. And Cubans, isolated for so long by Castro’s communist regime, are hungry for more cultural interactions with their U.S. neighbors. Tales of this connection weave through the MontanaHavana lyrics, sourced directly from the experience of getting to know one another through music.  There is the classical guitarist Aquiles Jorge, who facilitated many of Wales’s early interviews and subsequent introductions. Jorge, 53, played regularly for the Castros, but his heart is all rock and roll. In one Montana-Havana music video, he stands backward in the front seat of a red 1957 Chevy convertible taxi, playing the Stratocaster Fleming just gifted him. Jorge’s long hair whips out from under his black do-rag as he grins. “ … When I was a young student they had forced me at school to listen to Cuban music because Rock is the music of the ‘imperialist enemy,’” Jorge wrote in an email, “but that Rock is what I love, because I am a Rebel and in the world Rock is the true music of Rebels and Revolutionaries.” And there’s the Cuban reggaetón phenom Raynier “El Médico” Griñán, a performer whose story of abandoning his duty as State physician to play music was portrayed in an award-

“We are trying to generate new material that talks about the relationships between us … the traditions and the things we like about the other country.”

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winning 2011 documentary. With his street style and catchy lyrics, Griñán, 42, joined the project in 2017, bringing sex appeal and his massive following in Cuba and Europe. In 2019, they brought in Native American singer, drummer and activist Shane Doyle of the Crow tribe, as well as indigenous Cuban musicians descended from the pre-Columbian Taíno people. At this point, Wales had recently retired from Bridger Bowl after 28 years, and was headfirst into music. It was then, while working with Fleming to fuse some of the oldest known songs in North America with some of the world’s most influential music traditions, he realized this project had potential to carry a larger message. No longer just about bringing together two cultures, it was also a chance to use music to speak out about climate change. Which is when Kali Armstrong appeared. The 30-year-old granddaughter of astronaut Neil Armstrong, she studied ecology at Montana State University and recently started singing


Richard & Claire

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G E N E R O U S LY P R E S E N T

with the Bozeman group Pinky and the Floyd. Wales and Fleming happened to be working on a song honoring an astronaut’s perspective looking back at Earth when they met her. Swept up in the energy of the project, Armstrong sang atop the dramatic orchestral strings, guitar, percussion and electric bass on “Sensual Blue Delight,” recording it in one session. In the music video, wearing a zip-up hoody, hair pulled back under her recording headphones, she comes across as so very Bozeman, and yet absolutely transcendent, her voice clear and powerful, as if she were speaking for Mother Earth herself. After the inauspicious start, the project now has the blessing of Santiago’s Minister of Culture, and local group members recently showcased one of the Montana-Havana promo films as one of the major cultural undertakings coming out of the province. “We’re all feeding from this common inspiration, and we’re artists because we want to share,” Armstrong said. “Collaborating with people from another culture is the coolest thing in the world, especially if they’re speaking another language. You have to focus on the rhythm and the timbre and where they’re putting their heart.” As humanity battles a pandemic and faces down climate change, we can learn from this kind of cross-cultural understanding. Indeed, it may be the only thing that will allow us to survive. An independent writer based in Bozeman, Emily Stifler Wolfe has written for publications including Esquire, Outside and Sierra. She was the founding editor of Mountain Outlaw magazine. Find her at emilystiflerwolfe.com.

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Pirá Lodge Guide José Insaurralde displaying the “golden” prize PHOTO BY HARRISON BECKWITH

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IN SEARCH OF THE FAMED

GOLDEN DORADO BY ERIC LADD

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FISH STORY: AN EXTRAVAGANT OR INCREDIBLE TALE. s a blood-orange sun rises over the Iberá Wetlands, northern Argentina’s landscape comes alive. A family of capybara emerges from the reed cover and the young ones play in the water like kids at recess. A five-foot caiman slides onto a neighboring mud bank and appears to drift off to sleep as a flock of bright green parakeets roost in a tree by the boat dock. Pirá Lodge guides carry YETI coolers to the boats and begin rigging a series of rods as the faint crow of a rooster from the nearby village frames the setting for a perfect fish story. For over 20 years, fishing guide José Insaurralde has called these waters his backyard. A man of few words, José’s distinct mid-cheek sunglass tan and worn, callused hands are evidence of his time stalking fish in the marsh. Other guides call him “fishy,” the ultimate compliment for a guide who hunts golden dorado. Argentina’s Iberá marsh is the second largest wetland complex in the world where even park rangers get lost in the nearly 3.2 million-acre maze of channels and lagoons. José has a plan today to visit a hidden lagoon filled with monster dorado ranging upwards of 20 pounds. We are rigged for battle with 8-weight fly rods with steel leaders, dark purple and red streamers and a standby rod with a golf ball-sized mouse fly should the mood strike.

A curious caiman in the Iberá National Park PHOTO BY HARRISON BECKWITH

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Last night a full moon rose above the wetland, in many circles an urban-legend kiss of death for fishing. Anglers theorize that fish feed all night and in turn avoid feeding during the day. Could this be our luck? The morning started slow. Fish ignored the flies and José slowly poled through the lagoon pointing: “Really big fish”, he’d hiss. “Another really big fish.” But we had no takes, no looks, no bites. Damned moon. A few location adjustments, fly and technique tinkering, and our guide put us in the sweet spot. A sight cast to a 10-pound golden dorado and the powerful fish leaps from the water after hitting the fly on a full-speed sprint. Another fish! A third, fourth, fifth, a double hook-up (when two anglers hook a fish at the same time). Never mind the 8-foot caiman—a sort of hybrid between an alligator and a crocodile—swimming toward the boat and looking for an easy snack as we release fish. José taps the prehistoric creature on the snout to remind him of his place in the lagoon. “Honey hole,” José murmurs from the back of the boat followed by fist bumps and a celebratory beer. We can’t wait to share this fish story back at the lodge.


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Left: The fleet of Pirá Lodge boats awaits the eager anglers Right: Writer Eric Ladd shows off his fish of the trip OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTOS

The Portuguese word dourado and the Spanish dorado both mean “golden” and pertain to this fish’s display of golden reflections from its scales.

GOLDEN DORADO The famed golden dorado is an angler’s dream, embodying the best aspects of fishing including hard fights and acrobatic jumps along with strikes that require steel leaders and a solid cast. With a prominent head, powerful jaws, sharp teeth and a ferocious strike, the golden dorado—often called the “river tiger”—mimics a saltwater fish but resides in fresh waters. It has an allure and mystique on par with Atlantic salmon or steelhead resulting in a cult-like following of dedicated anglers. But the golden dorado is a unique species of fish unrelated to the freshwater trout, the anadromous salmon or the saltwater dorado (mahi mahi), and isolated to a relatively small region of South America. The fish can live upwards of 15 years and adapts quickly to its surrounding making it even more difficult to target. >>

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DELTA LODGE

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ucked within the thick maze of jungle and in the shadow of the Buenos Aires skyline lies the Delta Lodge. Founded by the famed dorado angler Noel PolSUINDÁ lak, Delta Lodge is nestled in a bend of the river, LODGE one of Noel’s favorite fishing holes. Polla k has PIRÁ been on a quest to perfect the art of fishing for LODGE golden dorado for 22 years and is arguably the IBERÁ N AT I O N A L R foremost “Yoda-esque” expert on this fish. E PARK While Noel has traveled the region setting up fishing programs and training guides on other sections of water, he has landed back at one of his favorite fishing holes due in part to the diversity of fish in this area as well as the specialized nature of targeting them near the city of Buenos Aires. D E L TA Delta Lodge LODGE is a comfortable, BUENOS AIRES five-building ARGENTINA complex built on stilts above the Paraná River wetlands with everything you need for a pleasant stay, including the lodge dog, “Dingo.” Songbirds surround the lodge Delta Lodge tucked into a corner of the Paraná River PHOTO BY HARRISON BECKWITH and anglers can cast flies the same day they arrive in Argentina while enjoying first-class homemade cuisine and no shortage of Malbec wine. Dorado fishing is a sunrise-to-sunset sport with midday siestas during the heat of the day. At Delta Lodge it’s a game of timing the wind, tides, sun, water temps and, of course, angling skill. “Guiding is a privilege,” Noel says as he sits in his hammock rolling a cigarette and telling tales of DINGO THE ‘LODGE DOG’ chasing golden dorado. Wearing a timeless pair of laceless Chuck Taylor sneakers, vintage pants and The Paraná River is a large, a weathered Delta Lodge hat, Noel is not only a conpowerful river with deep noisseur of fishing but also of vintage music. undercut banks and swirling eddies. Noel was fishing a remote After a few days of fishing, anglers witness Noel bank channel of the river one at his best, navigating side channels of the river afternoon and in the distance saw a dog struggling to swim, barely during a super-low slack tide that would send most Noel Pollak tying flies for keeping his nose above water. A anglers back to the bar. Dorado fishing can be a tricky the day’s dorados quick rescue of this mixed street sport and as the group departed for other reaches of canine and it was an immediate friendship, Noel recalls. Named the region for the Nervous Water fishing trip, Noel Dingo, this dog needed no training gave some fatherly advice after a particularly slow day and quickly took home to the Delta Lodge. Dingo knows his role: of fishing, “Welcome to the dorado world,” he said to send off boats in the morning and one perplexed angler who didn’t land a fish. “Trust welcome them home with more tail wagging in the evening. Every me that when it finally happens it’s so, so special.”

“WELCOME TO THE DORADO WORLD...”

fishing lodge needs a four-legged companion and Dingo is one of the finest.

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SUINDÁ LODGE

Suindá Lodge perched high above the banks PHOTO BY ANDREW JULIAN

As the sun sinks over the Paraguay skyline, our guide Fabi positions the boat in the center of the Paraná river channel directly over a small riffle. Fishing here is best early and late, Fabi explains: it’s when you have the best chance to land a 30-plus pound golden dorado. This, amigos, is trophy hunting. The back-drop of this fishing

spot includes the hallowed Basilica of Our Lady of Itatí, which sees 300,000 pilgrimages a year. On this particular night, the Southern Cross constellation shown directly above this national treasure. Suindá Lodge is a newly built, wellappointed fishing lodge located on a bank high above the mighty Paraná River. This is the lodge that will test an angler’s casting ability with oversized flies and heavy gear, but with every cast you have a chance of landing your fish of a lifetime. The Paraná River begins its journey in Brazil to become the second longest river in South America, and flows more than 3,000 miles touching Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. Suindá Lodge sits in a sweet spot of this massive river with a mix of fishing styles, rich cultural experience in neighboring towns, and a lodge perfect for mastering the art of a siesta.

IBERÁ NATIONAL PARK:

Covering nearly 3 million acres, comparable in size to Yellowstone National Park, the Iberá Wetlands lie in a remote section of north-central Argentina. This massive wetland complex is a critically important freshwater reserve and acts as a nursery for spawning fish, sanctuary to more than 350 bird species, deer, capybara and caiman, and is named after the largest lake in the preserve, Laguna Iberá. This park is so remote and large that there are over 200 indigenous, subsistence-living families who still live in the marsh in thatched huts and shrouded in urban legend with so little known about the hidden civilization. Since 1982, part of the wetland is included within a provincial protected area, the Iberá Provincial Reserve, which comprises about 5,000 square miles, the largest such area in Argentina. Ongoing plans to raise its protection status to a national park are making headway thanks to conservation legends Doug and Kris Tompkins and their Tompkins Foundation.

Above: A capybara overlooking the marsh

As part of the largest reintroduction initiative of wildlife in South America, giant anteaters Left: The bare necessities for a and pampas deer have day of Nervous Waters fishing already been established OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTO within the Iberá region. Puma, maned wolf, giant otters and jaguars are also making headway. The illusive and cherished jaguar will see its big moment in 2020 with the current plan to reintroduce four jaguars into the park since they were hunted to extinction. The jaguar project is over five years in the making. PHOTO BY HARRISON BECKWITH

On December 5, 2018, Argentina’s Congress passed legislation for the Iberá National Park, giving it the highest possible hierarchy of a park in the country, and resulting in greater legal protection (such as the prohibition of fumigation over the entire area) and preserving conservation of the area for future generations.

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he thoughtful intention of living within a landscape is an art that yields a more harmonious existence inside a surrounding. This is Pirá Lodge, a setting reminiscent of being in the center of a national park, isolated within the intact fabric of Mother Nature, surrounded by thousands of plant and animals species. The art of loving something so strongly that one wants to protect it is the emotion that the Pirá Lodge will invoke. There’s a reason that this epic fishing lodge not only attracts some of the finest fishing guides in the country, but it inspires artists, brings return guests year after year, and attracts lodge managers who have dedicated their lives to the preservation of the wetland. Fishing nearly becomes secondary to the amazing boat tours through the marsh, hundreds of bird species dotting the landscape, vast array of mammals living here, and an impeccable mix of flowers. The fishing program is dialed, guides are seasoned and fishing waters are rich with bait and lacking human impact. One early morning in March, we left Pirá Lodge with lead guide José Caparros, the consummate guide double-checking every knot and making sure the cooler is stocked with drinks. We departed early and took a long drive through the marsh waking up birds and caiman as we ventured to one of José’s favorite fishing zones.

The idyllic setting of Pirá Lodge and pool PHOTO BY HARRISON BECKWITH

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Left: The acrobatic nature of the golden dorado PHOTO BY HARRISON BECKWITH

Right: Cameron Scott and José Caparros celebrate a bucketlist catch OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTO

One fishing buff on our trip, Cameron, had been practicing for this moment for years. In fact, the past couple months he’d been in his snowfilled yard in Bend, Oregon, practicing long casts with his heavy rod and line setup. Cameron has called this trip a bucket-list journey and while he’s been a guide in Oregon and Idaho for years, the golden dorado was the fish he had only dreamed about until now. When we reached a deep-cut corner in the river, José and Cameron decided on a bright white fly with red eyes and a green back. Both guides and both crazy about fish, they exchanged stories about fish species, the art of guiding and the one that got away. Just then, José pointed upstream and told Cameron to lay a 60-foot cast across the NERVOUS WATERS river, just like he had been practicing back With more home, and to give it one big mend. On the than 30 years first cast of the last fishing day at Pirá Lodge, of experience the sun barely above the marshy landscape, hosting and guiding anglers and hunters, BAM! A 16-pound dorado broke the surface Nervous Waters owns and and shone its golden body. “First cast, first operates some of the finest sporting lodges in Argentina, cast!” José proclaimed and he rallied the net Chile and the Bahamas. The and gave Cameron direction on landing the Argentine-owned company’s staff are well trained and monster. This one didn’t get away and as José execute a high-quality and Cameron posed with the dorado, the experience that includes mutual stoke of the moment was palpable, concierge assistance in trip planning and all the details helping cement this fish story in the halls of to help transition smoothly history. from the airplane to the fishing boat. Argentina has a We couldn’t help but recall the sage storied history of exceptional advice Noel had given us 10 days earlier that golden dorado fishing, and Nervous Waters has not only the reward is well worth the wait: “Trust helped pioneer this story but me that when it finally happens it’s so, so now has premier access to an special.” angler’s bucket-list trip. M T O U T L AW. C O M / MOUNTAIN

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A FA M I L Y G R OW S TOG E T H E R I N IDAHO’S HIGH PEAKS BY MARK WILCOX

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lodding up “Devil Hill” with 60 pounds of gear, a baby strapped to my chest and a 5-year-old on my shoulders, I wonder why we tackled this three-day backpacking trip with all six of our children. And I have time to think. Devil Hill (our nickname) demands prolonged attention under any load as the trail rises, steep and steady, up a 1,000-foot bluff. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains tower over the teal water of Redfish Lake, offering periodic distractions from the suffering. My 3-year-old, Lincoln, has had enough and wants to go back to the fun part. “Can I try the slide now?” he asks, puppy dog eyes peering up through his blonde bangs. The natural water slide over smooth granite is several miles behind us, but the resulting pain lingers. I think I may have fractured a rib from ridetesting the Class V portion of the slide, which torpedoed me into a rock shelf. The Class II section that the whole family rode for a joyous, refreshing hour, seemed too scary to him when it was convenient. “Do you really want to go all the way back?” my wife, AmberLynn, asks patiently. His calculation is an open book as he eyes the steep trail stretching behind us. What goes down, must come up. Lincoln frantically shakes his head when he discovers what we already know: No way in heck are we going back. This year, anyway. >>

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Ari, 8, and Lincoln, 3, drink in the view of Redfish Creek Valley with Elk Peak and Reward Peak rising in the background.Â

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hile planning the trek, AmberLynn and I have plenty of discussions about the sanity of this expedition: Three days. An anticipated 11 miles roundtrip based on topo maps and trip reports we’ve studied. All six of our kids, aged 1 to 11. No pack animals, no Sherpa. Just us. We decide the potential rewards merit the challenge. All kids benefit from an early introduction to the outdoor life. And frankly, it’s been far too long since we’ve done something like this as a family due to the whole “six kids thing.” As soon as we hit the trail, passing hikers with far smaller packs count the backpacks in our group. Heads bob as they tally the rascals in tow. We’re used to this wherever we go together, but it’s immensely satisfying out here. Friendly variations of “Are you crazy or something?” comprise our FAQs from other hikers who also usually tell us how impressed they are we’re pulling it off. “Yep! Isn’t it awesome?” is our general reply. We hear from a number of people who wish they’d done this with their kids, and from plenty who would never attempt it—too dangerous, too exhausting, too hard. It certainly didn’t come easy.

The author carries Lincoln, 3, and his pack up “Devil Hill” on the shores of Redfish Lake with Grand Mogul catching the light at 9,733 feet.

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he first day, we discover our mileage calculations are way off. The trail follows Redfish Lake for the first several miles, a stretch most people boat across to shave distance off their treks. That gets pricey with eight passengers, though. We think we’ll be able to hike all the way to Alpine Lake, supposedly 5.3 miles in, on our first day. We don’t realize everybody has omitted the boat ride’s mileage in trip reports. That’s mileage we walk, including the 1,000-foot Devil Hill we’ll go up and down in both directions. We also let our determined 1-year-old, Kestrel, walk much of it. The terrain proves difficult for her, though, and she eats a lot of trail dust before resigning herself to the chest pack. We make an impromptu decision to camp at Bench Lakes the first night, where the kids set up camp, light the fire and pump water with gusto and little direction. This surprises us. At home “...frankly, it’s been we’re used to supervising everything and making mulfar too long since we’ve done something tiple requests to get anything done. Parent stuff. like this as a family In the mountains, our due to the whole “six kids are capably doing things kids thing.” we didn’t know they knew how to do. The lake’s still surface reflects a mirror image of the craggy Mount Heyburn looming above. We cook dinner on the kids’ fire, laugh and enjoy our idyllic campsite until nightfall. The next day we start out in great spirits, but the trail, again, stretches much farther than we expect. When our GPS says we’ve gone as far as we had planned, a passing hiker tells us we have at least a mile and an intense climb before camp. Turns out it’s two miles and 22 switchbacks, but who’s counting?


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Left: Nya, 10, Kael, 11 and Kian, 5, take a break from hiking through Redfish Creek Valley to check out Grand Mogul, which juts dramatically from the shores of Redfish Lake.

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he older kids naturally outpace our younger ones, who my wife “Best-case, I’m is feeding Skittles, aka “Power expecting a fuming Hiking Pills,” at regular intervals to wife for: 1. Leaving keep them walking. The speed difthree kids at the lake ferential splits us without a chance to communicate about the separation. I’m alone and 2. Leaving her and three kids carrying Kestrel in the chest pack and stick with the oldest kids, aged 11 and behind. I try not to 10. We ascend cliffs through a wild, think about worstglacier-carved bowl. case.” I don’t see AmberLynn and the three youngest kids anywhere on the many switchbacks below us. Torn between staying with my charges and making sure everything’s OK with group two, I decide to press on to Alpine Lake with the older kids and the baby. When we finally arrive, I task Kael and Nya with setting up camp. And, gulp, watching Kestrel while I run back to check on the others. It’s agonizing backcountry decision-making. A quick prayer and I’m running down the trail worrying about all of the possibilities. Best-case, I’m expecting a fuming wife for: 1. Leaving three kids at the lake alone and 2. Leaving her and three kids behind. I try not to think about worst-case. Just over a mile down the trail, I find the rest of the family. AmberLynn’s happy to see me. Bullet dodged. I alleviate the group’s load and carry extra packs to the lake with Ari, 8, Kian, 5, and Lincoln swapping rides on my shoulders much of the way.

Above: The Wilcox family preps for a well-deserved dinner on a fire built without instruction by Nya, 10. From left to right, AmberLynn, Kestrel, 1, Ari, 8, Kian, 5, Lincoln, 3, Nya and Kael, 11 all stepped it up to make it to this first campsite at Bench Lake.

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e make it. Camp’s already set up. The older kids are keeping Kestrel happy bouncing off the tent walls. Wow. They can be responsible. This trek into the Sawtooths turns out to be one of the most fulfilling, surprising adventures we’ve had as a family. The kids experience the difficulty, but they don’t complain. They step it up a notch. The euphoria of camping in the backcountry, riding a natural waterslide and bonding in the outdoors isn’t

lost on them (well, maybe on Kestrel)—even on the last day when we have 11 miles to go with one devil of a hill near the end. As we reach the car, dusty, sweaty and sore, we realize the growth, situational ownership and responsibility that showed up on the trail. Instead of filling our drive home with talk of pain, complaints or difficulty, we happily spend the time planning our next backpacking trip.

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Flint strikes his iconic Michael Jackson pose during a photo shoot at the Oklahoma City Unleash the Beast show last February. PHOTO BY ANDY WATSON

THE MAN AND THE

MASK Flint Rasmussen won’t get on a bull. And he may be the hottest thing in professional bull riding. BY BAILEY J. BELTRAMO


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It’s about consistency and attention to detail: White goes around his right eye first, always. His mouth is next, left eye after that.

An artist prepares. PHOTO BY ANDY WATSON

MUSCLE MEMORY then kicks in, developed from decades of performing. Red fills in between islands of white outlined in blue. Black wrinkles and freckles. With every finger stroke of makeup, his features become more accentuated, the excitement builds and a stage persona rises. The final touch before facing a crowd of thousands is writing a small “F.R.” in red just below his right cheekbone. The transformation is complete: Flint Rasmussen steps into the arena. Ask fans of bull riding to name the greats in their sport and a list will form. J.B. Mauney and Jess Lockwood are household names. Chris Shivers, Ty Murray and Justin McBride have secured seats in bull riding history. Even some bulls have risen to stardom such as SweetPro’s Bruiser, Pearl Harbor and Bones. Flint Rasmussen is not a bull nor rider. But he has earned his place in the history books and is beloved by many—newcomers, seasoned fans and cowboys alike. Flint is the exclusive entertainer for the Professional Bull Riders tour, better known as the PBR. Part stand-up comic, part dancer, 100 percent rodeo expert, his upbringing and natural talents have allowed him to revolutionize the role of rodeo clown and carve out a unique position for himself in the

western sports world. Growing up, his talents ran the gamut from natural athleticism on the field and court to musical inclination to a flair for the performing arts. And he was gifted a consistent behind-the-scenes view of rodeos as he followed his father’s announcing career from arena to arena across Montana, learning through osmosis. “The production, the timing of the announcer, knowing when my dad as the announcer needed to talk about something and needed to sell somebody, when he didn’t—that was just ingrained in us, it wasn’t like we set out to learn,” Flint explains. Eventually, his talents coalesced into a foundation upon which Flint built a rodeo clown role during college summers. Even then, he stuck to the traditional mold of baggy-overalls and scripted skits with props to carry the bulk of his act. But it didn’t take long for his humor and knack for unscripted comedy to rise to the top.  “He took the rodeo world by storm,” says brother Will Rasmussen, an acclaimed rodeo announcer in his own right. “He was the most sought-after clown and entertainer there was.”  Three years after stepping into the arena full-time—an unplanned career change from his post-college job as a high

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Flint Rasmussen during the first round of the Duluth Unleash the Beast PBR. Forgoing the jersey and makeup, Flint took up the commentating role in the PBR’s first closed-to-public broadcast. PHOTO BY ANDY WATSON

Flint Rasmussen (right) and brother Will try their hands at entertaining as rodeo clown and rodeo announcer at an amateur circuit event in their hometown of Choteau, Montana, in the summer of 1993. PHOTO COURTESY OF WILL RASMUSSEN

school math teacher—Flint performed at his first National Finals Rodeo. Eight Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association Clown of the Year awards later, he signed on exclusively with the PBR. It was then that Flint really began to break away from the old school acts and pioneer his style of “walk and talk” that’s become popular. As long-time friend and PBR photographer Andy Watson explains: “Flint took the job position of rodeo clown and turned it into rodeo entertainer.” It’s safe to say the transition has been well received.  “There’s more signs in the crowd for Flint than there are for J.B. Mauney,” Watson says.  If the grandstand metrics aren’t enough, countless social media comments laud Flint with fandom.  “I’ll be there tonight! Wish my horse Flint (named after you) was coming with!” wrote one Instagram user. “So excited I kicked cancer’s ass so I’m able to take my daughter to the show Saturday night. Can’t wait to see you Flint!” commented another.  THE SUCCESS OF FLINT’S ACT can be broken down into three main tenets: timing, dancing and the ability to riff worthy of a cast position on Saturday Night Live. First, Flint keeps a finger locked on the pulse of a PBR show every minute he’s in an arena. Those years of being raised at rodeos allow him to weave his act in and out of the rippling fabric of bucking bulls, adrenalinepumping music and pyrotechnics that make up a PBR show. Successful entertainers like Flint realize timing is everything, even to the second they make their entrance. 172

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“They know the ebbs and flows, they know a good time to be there, a good time not to be there,” Will says. The result is a seamless experience that wraps up spectators from their arrival to when the last bull bucks. Add to this the simple fact that Flint has been able to create this experience for fans consistently, something of a rarity in the sport of bull riding. Cowboys’ careers are often not long lasting due to propensity for injury. So, while their careers might be measured in short arcs, Flint’s has encompassed them all. Second, Flint brought mainstream dancing to bull riding. It’s no two-step or “Copper Head Road” line dance either. In a cowboy hat, makeup and jersey, he breaks into an Elvis Presley hip-swaying shuffle or gets down to whatever pop song is mainstream at the time.  Incorporating the natural Rasmussen rhythm that both brothers claim happened organically. “The first time I went [to a PBR show] and they were playing music I instinctively started dancing because it’s what I do,” Flint says. “I didn’t do anything different than what I was good at.” And he’s never taken a dance lesson. He does, however, recall the exact moment that learning to dance came to the forefront of his mind. After a 1983 Jackson 5 performance broadcast on NBC, Michael took the stage alone. The glove went on, the groove of “Billie Jean” kicked in, and he moonwalked across the

“He took the rodeo world by storm,” says brother Will Rasmussen, an acclaimed rodeo announcer in his own right. “He was the most sought-after clown and entertainer there was.”


OUTLAW

stage. “I said, ‘I’ve got to learn what Michael Jackson did,’” Flint remembers. The concrete floor of his school’s music room provided an apropos rehearsal area, and day after day he practiced until he too could moonwalk across a stage. The last ingredient to Flint’s recipe is his good-natured personality that thrives on unscripted, genuine interactions with an audience.  “It’s not just telling jokes and walking around and being funny,” Watson says. “It’s actually interacting with the crowd. It’s finding out what that crowd wants and then giving it to them.” That personable element comes in the form of paying attention to the tiny details of wherever he is performing. He’ll buy a local paper to stay up on a community’s current events or even don the jersey of a home team. Will puts it simply: “He seems tangible.” In exchange for his high-energy interaction, audiences have become eager to respond in kind. “That’s the shift I see is how much more fun the crowds are,” Flint says. And he’s proud to feel some responsibility in fostering that atmosphere. For twoand-a-half hours, the goal is to connect.  At day’s end, that’s a job well done in Flint’s book. “People get asked ‘What will your tombstone say?’ I’ve always said mine will say ‘He made our day just a little bit better.’ I would like people to at least think or know when I’m out there performing, my heart is wanting you people to feel better.” Flint has been making fans feel the love for 25 years now but a looming question remains: How long can the show go on? If

fans had their way, forever. But having already suffered a heart attack 11 years ago, Flint acknowledges that his seasons in the arena are numbered. He made clear his commitment to staying with the Western sports world and already has eyes on what that transition could look like. Increased social media outreach, live-stream interviews, PBR broadcasting opportunities could all be possibilities for the future. The travel reprieve caused by the Covid-19 virus has opened doors toward that end.  A NEW “FLINT FROM HOME” livestream series has popped up on Facebook, and Flint has taken up a spot on the broadcast team for the closed-to-public broadcast format PBR CEO Sean Gleason has laid out at the Lazy-E Ranch in Guthrie, Oklahoma.  But no matter how Flint’s role may change down the road, his good-natured humor and genuine desire to entertain fans in order to grow the Western sports world will continue to shine through—whether it’s from behind his iconic makeup or not.

Left: Flint dazzles the crowd with dancing, impersonations and even lasso work. Right: Don’t need no bull. As the PBR entertainer, Flint tends to avoid the livestock. PHOTOS BY ANDY WATSON/ BULL STOCK MEDIA

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Spanish Creek burbles through an open field in early May as contributing snow melt begins its new journey, later flowing into the Gallatin River. Likewise, humanity is exploring uncharted territory as society restarts following the COVID-19 wave. PHOTO BY KG CONTENT

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Charting a new course for the treatment of life-threatening infections is happening right here in Big Sky country! Microbion is a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company developing a new class of anti-infective drugs for the treatment of antibiotic-resistant lung infections.

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Profile for Outlaw Partners

2020 Summer Mountain Outlaw  

With award-winning editorial content, design and photography, Mountain Outlaw magazine has been described as “Powder Magazine meets Rolling...

2020 Summer Mountain Outlaw  

With award-winning editorial content, design and photography, Mountain Outlaw magazine has been described as “Powder Magazine meets Rolling...

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