The land, water and wildlife that make Montana the Last Best Place did not happen by mistake.
In its darkest days of exploitation, game herds dwindled and pollution threatened the state’s great rivers and streams. Recognizing that without action the best of the state might be lost forever, conservation giants set the groundwork of restoration and preservation.
But the work of conservationists did not end with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt or Bob Marshall. It was also not limited to the preservation of land but stretches into teaching, law, tribal rights and leaders of conservation organizations.
In the second of this two-part series on the 2016 Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame inductees, meet Jim Posewitz, Bob Ream, Bud Lilly, Jim Goetz, Tony Schoonen and Thomas “Bearhead” Swaney.
Noted author and conservation historian Jim Posewitz knows that a conservation ethic comes from both the personal and the collective.
America spurned the aristocratic privatizing of wildlife in favor management by the states in trust for all citizens. That catalyzed conservation by individuals inspired to restore wildlife and preserve important habitat.
“In England you had to be a poacher but in America any citizen could hunt,” Posewitz said. “We need to appreciate that that’s part of who we are.”
Posewitz has perhaps done more to encourage conservation ethics than anyone alive.
Following a 30-year career with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, he started Orion: The Hunters Institute and was a founding board member and executive director for the Cinnabar Foundation.
Posewitz authored several books on hunter ethics and history, including the seminal work and staple of hunter education “Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting.”
In 2015 Posewitz was honored as the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservationist of the Year.
And he frequently speaks in public about history and the lessons it provides for the future. By recognizing not only biology but history and philosophy as the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame does, the human side of conservation is revealed.
“Most history you study is the history of how people exploit a place,” he said. “And yet you talk to a Montana person at random, and chances are good that what they want to talk about is not what we exploited but what we nurtured and conserved and preserved.”
As Posewitz hikes the mountains in search of game, he cannot help but recall the words of the visionaries that came before him.
“More ink has been spent on the Copper Kings that gave us the Berkley Pit than has ever been written about those that gave us the Bob Marshall and the Scapegoat,” he said. “We need to teach it.”
Bob Ream’s impacts on conservation stretch from the world of academia to the chambers of the state Capitol to the commission overseeing fish and wildlife in Montana.
As a notable wildlife biology professor at the University of Montana, he initiated the Wolf Ecology Project in 1973 laying the groundwork for wolf recovery in the Rocky Mountains. In 1975 he founded the Wilderness and Civilization program, offering students an interdisciplinary approach studying Montana’s wildlands.
Ream counts the program as a hallmark of his academic career, particularly as he reflects during his battle with pancreatic cancer.
“As I look back at those students and just the input I’ve gotten particularly this fall after people found out I was sick, it really changed the lives of so many of those students,” he said. “A lot of leaders have come out of that program and all talk about how it changed their lives.”
From 1983 to 1997 Ream served in the Montana House of Representatives. There he became the chief sponsor of Montana’s Stream Access Law, Montana Superfund law and restitution payments for illegally taken wildlife.
“It was a neat process because it was a collaborative effort of the conservationists and the stock growers and it ended up not being hard to get passed,” he said of stream access.
Ream believes more consensus once existed among lawmakers about conservation, but battles particularly over wilderness designations were still contentious. He counts climate change as the biggest issue facing the environment but feels the conservation movement overall is faring well.
As chairman of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission from 2009 to 2013, Ream presided over management of many iconic species, including state management of wolves.
His mix of academic and legislative experience played off each other, Ream said, adding that it is an honor to be considered with others inducted into the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame.
Bud Lilly, 91, of Three Forks, has been called “the trout’s best friend.” For a host of very good reasons.
A longtime fly-shop owner, outfitter and guide, Lilly grew up fishing Montana’s waters. He's also been the director, founding or charter member of a host of organizations dedicated to conservation and the preservation of wild trout fisheries: Montana Trout Unlimited, Montana River Action, Federation of Fly Fishers, Montana Land Reliance, the International Flyfishing Center, the Montana Trout Foundation, and more.
Currently, the World War II Navy veteran is the director of the Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation, a project that brings disabled veterans to Montana and introduces them to fly-fishing.
Lilly went to school at the Montana School of Mines in Butte, excelling in math and science, and he taught those subjects in Roundup, Deer Lodge and Bozeman before getting a chance to buy a fishing shop in West Yellowstone. He scraped $4,500 together and Montana fishing was forever changed.
He got to know hundreds of fishermen and trained scores of guides — including children Mike, Greg and Annette. He became legendary for his kindness as well as his gruff humor.
He pioneered the practice of catch and release, and successfully lobbied the state to switch from “put and take” systems to wild native-trout fisheries wherever possible. Native fish thrived and Montana’s outdoor industry boomed as a result.
Lilly, who has an honorary doctorate from Montana State University, also has had the school's collection of more than 11,000 books, photographs, papers and other trout-related works named after him. It's the world's largest collection of trout information.
"It's an honor to be a part of this group. I think it's an important thing, to recognize people who have done so much to save our Earth,” Lilly said.
Jim Goetz, a Bozeman attorney born in Miles City and educated at Montana State and Yale, has been at the forefront of many constitutional battles in Montana. He brought a case in 1984 that resulted in the Montana Supreme Court clearly defining public access to Montana’s waterways. The court’s ruling stated that “the public has the right to use Montana’s rivers and streams that are capable of recreational use up to the ordinary high water mark.”
The following year, that principle was codified in law by House Bill 265, the Stream Access Law.
Goetz also drafted the Montana Conservation Easement law, for a group of Blackfoot Valley ranchers, and later represented A.B. "Bud" Guthrie Jr. -- author of "The Big Sky" -- in contesting a Teton County subdivision. He represented the Libby Rod and Gun Club in a case that saw the U.S. 9th Circuit Court block the construction of a "re-regulation" dam, below the main Libby Dam, which would have flooded another seven miles of the Kootenai River.
Brent Zundel wrote a history of the stream access struggle for the Public Land/Water Access Association. In it, he wrote, "In the late 1970s, reports of angler harassment on the Dearborn and Beaverhead rivers in Western and Southwestern Montana reached a crescendo. Butte fishermen Jerry Manley and Tom Bugni stepped forward to take on the battle. In 1979, the pair met with a young Bozeman lawyer named Jim Goetz at the Steer Inn near Three Forks. Goetz suggested that they form a statewide organization dedicated to expanding stream access. Just starting his law career at the time, Goetz agreed to represent the new organization for half the going rate. Tony Schoonen joined the group shortly thereafter, and the Montana Coalition for Stream Access was born."
Goetz also represented Sister Mary Jo McDonald, Fritz Daily and Ron Davis in their successful lawsuit to get upper Silver Bow Creek recognized as a state waterway by that name. And he represented McDonald and another citizens' group in a successful suit against Butte Water Company to protect the waters of Silver Lake for Butte citizens. He is currently representing The Montana Standard and the Silver Bow Creek Coalition -- McDonald, Daily and Davis -- in an effort to open Butte Superfund negotiations to the public.
Goetz, reached as he was working on a case, said last week, "I'm deeply honored to be nominated with the likes of iconic figures such as Tony Schoonen, Pat Williams and Bud Lilly.
“Growing up in Montana, especially in Ennis on the Madison River, was a great blessing,” he added. “I just wish I had more time now to get outdoors.”
Tony Schoonen, a Butte fisherman and public access advocate, is widely credited with successfully pushing the concept of stream access, culminating in the Supreme Court ruling and the 1985 law.
Schoonen was a resident of the Montana State Orphanage in Twin Bridges nearly from birth to about age 14. Often, local ranch folk would take in kids from the orphanage, and he says it was his good luck to live on the Seidensticker Ranch, where the family raised him as their own.
When he was done with chores, he roamed the Big Hole ranch with the single-shot shotgun and Springer spaniel given to him by the family.
Schoonen, long a leader in both Trout Unlimited and Butte’s Skyline Sportsmen’s Club, told The Montana Standard recently, “Growing up, I could hunt, fish, ride a horse, do anything almost anywhere in Montana. It's gotten so much more restrictive.
"I wanted to see my grandkids do a lot of the things I grew up doing."
Schoonen, who worked for 30 years as a teacher and principal in Cardwell, Whitehall and Butte, credits a critical moment for sparking his conservation activism.
He said that after a stint in the Army in the 1950s, he came back to the ranch and found that heavy machinery had been used to channel Big Hole River water in to irrigation canals.
He realized that the work had hurt the river and wildlife habitat in unintended ways.
In the early 1960s, he lobbied to get a law passed requiring highway construction to follow strict guidelines to protect streams -- and later, another more sweeping law that ensured stream beds would be protected from construction activities.
But his biggest fight was the battle for stream access.
He said there were "a lot of veterans" involved in the same fight. "That's why we volunteered, to fight for our freedoms. Speech. Press. Public lands.
"You hate to see any of it go," he said. "It's a constant battle to preserve a little bit of what we had.
"And the good Lord puts all of us on Earth for something. This is what I was supposed to do."
Thomas “Bearhead” Swaney, 1931-2009
Bearhead Swaney lived most of his life with the Mission Mountains commanding the skyline above his St. Ignatius home.
As a tribal leader and well known orator, Swaney advocated for tribal sovereignty and conservation that led to landmark environmental protections on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
Swaney returned from the Korean War to become an influential tribal leader during the 1970s and 1980s. He served as a member of regional and national American Indian councils, earning respect for his work on wildlife, wilderness, water and air.
As a young man Swaney helped establish tribal conservation areas including one for grizzly bears in the Mission Mountains. The efforts earned him the American Motors Conservationist of the Year Award in the late 1970s.
On the Flathead Reservation he pushed for primitive area status for 35,000 acres of the South Fork and wilderness designation for nearly 100,000 acres in the Mission Mountains -- the nation’s first tribally designated wilderness area.
Swaney’s personal connection to the Flathead River and work to protect it became one of his defining accomplishments.
When Bureau of Indian Affairs proposed to log old-growth ponderosa pine from the banks of the 72-mile-long lower Flathead River, he and his cousin Joe McDonald organized a float trip with world-renowned wildlife biologists Frank and John Craighead, BIA foresters and his tribal council. The BIA soon withdrew its proposal.
Bearhead similarly stopped lower Flathead River hydroelectric dams proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from being built.
Information from Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame biographies.