The Best Laid Plans

Credit: National Wildlife Federation

Big Timber, Montana   It’s not because we weren’t up early. We had to pick up a spare tire for the trailer at 730, and I had a radio taping at 8:30, so we were hoofing it.

The signs for trouble were all there though. The tire was ready, but they had not been able to find a wheel, but what can you do. Then finding a place to park the truck and trailer in downtown Missoula was a challenge. We ended up on the other side of the railroad tracks, just a couple of blocks from the “Break,” our headquarters when we’re in town. But, that’s a couple of blocks as the crow files before the rail yard, no doubt wisely, fenced it all in, so we had to trudge our way to a crossover, up three flights and down the same, and then across the bridge and over in order to make it to the Break by 825 am to find the electricity and therefore the internet were down. The place was full of people sitting in the dark. Chaco’s phone worked so we got the interview in the nick of time, and the lights came on. We Uber-ed back to the truck and my phone worked well enough to handle the Skype call with our interns in Bengaluru, so maybe our luck was changing.

Not really. Thirty miles out of town and just four miles from the Rock Creek Road turnoff, our old standby, the truck suddenly seem to be straining and losing power. A motorcyclist drove by and pointed at the back of the trailer. Sure enough, the radials on the suspect tire had unraveled. That began a 3 ½ hour hurt dance extravaganza. We loosened the tire lugs, then backed the trailer over a small piece of 2×6 to lift it up enough to take the tire off. Then we went through the routine of jacking up the hitch as a trailer stand and unhitching and blocking the tires. No repair in Drummond, so we ended up in Deer Lodge 50 miles away. Long story short, we were lucky to make it to Big Timber by 6pm after crawling over the Continental Divide outside of Butte and then Bozeman’s Pass, but by then we knew Wyoming was another day.

There’s a lesson here. The other day we were talking with Tom France and Meg Haen, old friends and colleagues, now with the National Wildlife Federation. We were talking about conservation programs that had worked with the grizzly bears, long a Tom specialty, and his argument, gaining increasing traction from his organization and others, that they are best safeguarded by taking them off the federal endangered list and devolving them to state protections, which he argues are actually superior in most states in the West. The more difficult problem where he has had to shift emphasis recently is protecting the salmon run in Washington State blocked by the dams and powerful political coalitions of conservative rural local, state, and federal forces and Democrats interested in protecting the dam building legacy of former office holders like Senator Scoop Jackson and others that advocated for them strongly along with cheaper power.

A political advertisement was running on CNN in the break area in Big Timer that was a message to Interior Secretary Zinke here in the heart of his former Montana base. The ad was from sportsmen and backcountry outfitters and campers claiming he was reneging on his promise to protect the land in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt with his review and opposition to monument designated and protected lands. It would be a mistake to think everyone out here in the West is part of the 36% of classic right base that Trump is currying so assiduously.

We adapted our journey to the environment and tools at hand in another lesson of what happens to “best laid plans.” Seems like Washington DC and Washington State might need to take a look at the lessons we were relearning yesterday as well.

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