If Montana is the “last best place,” part of the reason is its strong history of conservation carried out by many Montanans, some of whom played large roles in important national policy and legislation to preserve Montana’s wildlife and wild places.
Now, 13 more of those hard workers have been recognized for their efforts by being inducted into the Montana Outdoors Hall of Fame.
“The Hall of Fame inductees cover a range of personalities who worked in the public and private sectors, and more times than not, on their own, to advance what could be termed Montana’s conservation consciousness,” said Thomas Baumeister, Hall of Fame executive director, in a release.
This year’s inductees were selected from a field of 53 nominees and include four men from western Montana who spent decades fighting for wilderness and for clean streams and wild trout.
If you love wetting a fly and not having to beg some landowner to do it, then you’ll agree with the selection of former Trout Unlimited executive director Bruce Farling.
Farling started his conservation career in the 1980s with the Clark Fork Coalition, fighting for the removal of toxic mine tailings and Superfund restoration along the Clark Fork River.
He moved over to Montana Trout Unlimited in 1994 and helped push the Legislature to make a number of legal changes to help fish, such as creating instream water rights to leave water in streams and creating a system to allow irrigators to leave water in the rivers without losing their water rights.
During Farling’s tenure, Montana Trout Unlimited won a 2006 lawsuit that proved the link between groundwater and surface water, so people couldn’t keep drilling wells and claim it wouldn’t affect streams.
“It’s incremental change that adds up to substantial stuff,” Farling said.
Montana Trout Unlimited helped bring back numerous fisheries, including grayling in the Big Hole River, bull trout in the Blackfoot River and westslope cutthroat trout in Silver Bow Creek, a once-toxic stream below the mines of Butte. Toward the end of his career, Farling helped lead the fight to save the Smith River from possible pollution from the proposed Black Butte Mine.
But for anglers, Montana’s best attribute is its 1985 stream-access law, which allows fishermen to access any stream, regardless of the land it flows through, if they stay between the bank high-water marks.
However, in the early 2000s, the Trout Unlimited national office told state chapters to stay out of stream-access issues, and some at the local level suspected deep-pocketed donors were offended by a national crusade for public stream access. Farling refused to go along and the Montana chapter led an uprising that forced the national office to back down.
Blackfoot Outfitter Paul Roos was another angler who became a Trout Unlimited organizer after seeing how mines could destroy a fishery. He was guiding on the Blackfoot River when the Mike Horse Mine dam broke in 1975, sending toxins down the river, wiping out thousands of fish. After another mining company proposed an open-pit gold mine in the drainage in 1986, Roos helped start the Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited to fight it.
The chapter completed 700 stream restoration projects that helped trout populations rebound. Some of that led in part to the development of the Blackfoot Challenge, which has also helped retain the wild and rural character of the Blackfoot.
Finally, Roos helped champion a 1998 ballot initiative that banned cyanide heap-leach mining in Montana, a practice that will forever pollute the water of the Fort Belknap Reservation near the defunct Zortman-Landusky mine.
Sadly, Roos died a few weeks ago after a battle with cancer but not before learning of his induction into the Outdoors Hall of Fame.
Say the word “wilderness,” and most Montanans will think of Bob Marshall or maybe U.S. Sen. Lee Metcalf. But they should also think of Stewart Monroe Brandborg or “Brandy,” a fiery defender of wilderness who spurned more recent collaborative wilderness proposals until his final breath in 2018.
He had been involved in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Bill and knew how much compromise had already gone into the wilderness law. He didn’t want to see any more.
“Right now, we’re facing a crisis in wilderness. A lot of people at this meeting are discussing degrees and varieties of wilderness. Let’s take the word ‘wild’ and live by it as the initial sponsor intended,” Brandborg told land agency managers in 2015.
After his work with the National Wildlife Federation took him to Washington, D.C., in 1954, he joined The Wilderness Society to work as an assistant to Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser. During the eight years it took to pass the Wilderness Act, Brandborg recruited “citizen leaders’ in Montana to help champion the cause and was present when President Lyndon Johnson signed the act.
Brandborg led The Wilderness Society for a dozen years, during which 70 wilderness areas were created in 31 states. In Montana, he helped create the Anaconda-Pintler, Bob Marshall, Cabinet Mountains, Gates of the Mountains, Medicine Lake, Mission Mountains, Red Rock Lakes, Scapegoat, Selway-Bitterroot, and UL Bend wilderness areas.
While Brandborg had a hand in creating dozens of wilderness areas, Dale Harris dedicated his life to just one: the Great Burn Recommended Wilderness. From 1971, when he helped conduct and compile the first wilderness study of the Great Burn region – the 275,000-acre area west of Missoula burned by the 1910 Fire – until his retirement in 2019, Harris ran the Great Burn Study Group out of his garage using mostly his own money.
He met with a local retired judge to draft lawsuits against timber sales that threatened the Great Burn and won every challenge. Over the years, he worked to include the Great Burn in 18 different wilderness bills both in Montana and Idaho.
One of those bills finally passed in 1988, but President Ronald Reagan let it expire without his signature —a pocket veto as a favor to Montana Sen. Conrad Burns. It was the most devastating day of Harris’ life, but it didn’t stop him. Even after, he continued to meet with forest supervisors, district rangers, loggers, outfitters, miners, and county commissioners to advocate for the Great Burn’s protection.
John and Carol Gibson, George Bird Grinnell, Hal Harper, Gayle Joslin, Bob Kiesling, Gene Sentz, Richard Vincent and Vince Yannone are also being inducted during a Dec. 5 ceremony. The Outdoors Hall of Fame was started in 2014.
“It is a remarkable list of individuals whose accomplishments span a lifetime of keeping watch over Montana’s natural wonders,” Baumeister said.