GREG TOLLEFSON: Saving nature is good

This item originally appeared in: The Missoulian


Greg Tollefson

I’m sure you have noticed there is something foul in the air this fall. Even as the smoke of wildfires that filled our valleys and seeped into every corner of our lives over the long summer has finally dissipated, another smog-like phenomenon has settled in.

And it is everywhere.

Just look for a radio station on your next trip out of town and you will find the smog clogging the airways. Sit down to watch a football game, the World Series or your favorite cop show and you will find it there, too. When the telephone rings, at least if you still have a land line, answer it without checking the caller I.D. and chances are, before hanging up in disgust, you will find yourself listening to the first few sentences of a robo-call from some candidate.

It has become nearly impossible to escape the awful white noise of this election season. Never, in my memory at least, has that noise been more negative, more filled with half-truths and blatant lies, and more designed to instill fear and loathing in all of us. The noise defies our attempts to escape.

At morning coffee, Casper, Andy, Dr. D and others who stop by our table for a moment, shake their heads and join the chorus bemoaning the tenor of the debate. This happens before we get around to the normal morning conversation fare which generally includes hunting reports, football discussions, particularly the Grizzlies and Denver Broncos, and recounting of the whole gamut of outdoor adventures that are so readily available to us and so much a part of our daily lives here.

I don’t know many people who would admit to being influenced one way or another by the relentless barrage of television and radio ads. Most of my pals are up to snuff on candidates’ records and positions on issues important to them. But that doesn’t mean that some of the assertions in those ads don’t get under their skin, or mine.

Lately, for example, the repeated references in some ads to economy wrecking and threats to our legal rights caused by “radical environmentalists” and “environmental extremists” have succeeded in elevating the blood pressure of more than a few of my pals. It seems that anyone who might question the wisdom of the rush to extract every single nickel from the resources with which our state is so richly blessed would fall into that general group. And, even though I have intended to just ignore the stuff in those ads, this wrinkle has succeeded in eroding my resolve to remain aloof from the ugly fray.

That’s because as near as I can tell, those folks being referred to in such ads are for the most part friends of mine, and the very people who have been responsible for protecting the things about our state that make it such a wonderful place to live, work and play.

It’s not that long ago that we Montanans were freed of the “copper collar” that controlled the politics of our state, channeled the news to us, and wrought havoc upon the air and water of Big Sky Country. And it was and continues to be through the work of those who are labeled today as “radical environmentalists” that the tide was turned away from wonton exploitation of our precious natural resources toward a more thoughtful, sustainable approach to the way we exercise our stewardship of those natural blessings.

Those people and the groups that formed over the years took a stand for the future of this place. And they were no more radical than you or your next-door neighbor. They were simply people who woke up to the need to actively care for the natural world, not just as a source of immediate economic rewards or instant gratification of some sort, but as a source of long-term physical and spiritual sustenance and a legacy to be shared with generations yet to come.

The list of the groups that have formed to protect what is left of what we now call this “Last Best Place” is a long one. The list of their accomplishments over decades of effort is longer still. People who chose to set their political differences aside and work together for a common goal achieved most of those lasting accomplishments.

Every citizen of this state in some way benefits from those efforts every day. That benefit may come in the water we drink, the air we breathe, or in the myriad ways we have to enjoy and appreciate the wild and wonderful natural world around us.

I know that the words “radical” and “extremist” are chosen in an attempt to ignite a response, and I guess they have, with me, anyway. And that’s probably OK because at least it has prompted me to say something about it.

Notably absent from much of the campaign rhetoric we are being subjected to is any reminder of the natural blessings we enjoy here and our continuing obligation to safeguard what is most precious. You might have to dig a little bit to find out where the candidates really stand on these things. I would like to humbly suggest that you do exactly that before voting.

That’s all.

And, I would also suggest that one way to get away from the awful election noise is to get out in the hills to a high place where you can see for miles, or perhaps take a walk along the river, watch the birds, and let the sound of moving water soothe you. Then take a deep breath, and think about how beautiful Montana is.

And, yes, don’t forget to vote.