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Kendall Cotton: A bucket list for new Montanans
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KENDALL COTTON

Kendall Cotton: A bucket list for new Montanans

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There’s a reason a lot of Montanans roll their eyes when they see a license plate from California. We’ve all heard statements like “they just don’t understand how things work here” or “they are going to turn Montana into California.”

As someone born and raised in Montana, I welcome people moving here. The more people who bring their families, businesses and talents here, the better off we will all be. But it is also true there are unique features of life in Montana you can’t fully understand from the car window on the highway passing by.

To that end, I’ve started a short bucket list I hope will help new Montanans get to know and embrace the special way of life we all treasure:

1. Tour a logging job site

If you want to meet a true conservationist, try hitching a ride in a logging harvester some time. You may be surprised as the logger narrates their reasoning for harvesting one tree and not the other to promote the long-term health of the ecosystem. You’ll likely hear them lamenting the unnaturally severe wildfires that could have been mitigated with more active forest management.

Environmentally conscious people from big cities seem to look down on those who make their living from natural resources. But in Montana, our beautiful land isn’t just there to look at — it sustains us. Those in the logging industry live, work and play in our forests; they are the last people who want to see the environment degraded. Montanans who derive their livelihood from the land understand that we are active participants in our ecosystem and have a responsibility to be good stewards of the environment.

2. Go on the Montana diet

Kale chips and avocado toast from Whole Foods isn’t an option for a lot of Montanans. For families like mine growing up in rural areas, most of our food came from our seasonal garden and the public land elk my dad harvested the season before.

Hunting isn’t just a sport, it’s how many Montanans put food on the dinner table. It’s also how we manage our big game populations, ensuring that wild species continue to thrive.

By growing and hunting what we eat, we learn at a young age about the delicate balance of sustainable living, the principles of fair chase and the responsible use of firearms. We also look poorly on poachers, trespassers and those who don’t pick up their spent shell casings because they risk ruining it for everyone else.

3. Hike the backcountry

“Glamping” in Glacier Park doesn’t evoke nearly the sense of awe and perspective you get from spending an extended time in Montana’s vast wilderness backcountry. There are no outhouses, roads or cell service. You might not even see other people. But you will get to see some of the most amazing landscapes in the world. Importantly, you will also experience true self-reliance and the reason why Montana kids are taught the ethos of “leave it better than you found it.” Being in the backcountry inspires reverence for our wild places and will help you understand why we don’t leave trash behind or campfires continuing to burn.

For those just moving here, I offer a warm welcome to Montana. Spend a little time going off the beaten path, get to know the state and its people, and I’m sure you’ll fit right in.

Kendall Cotton is president and CEO of the Helena-based Frontier Institute. 

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