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.


Bringing the Fight for Climate Change Home, Minnesota Style

Shreveport   There’s no real debate about whether climate change is huge threat. You don’t have to believe the science, but you can’t deny what Richard Pryor famously called the evidence available to your “lying eyes.” We see it everywhere around us from the diminishing coastline to earlier Springs and more violent storms. The problem for many people is figuring out what they can do to be effective besides turning down the thermometer, putting out their recycling, sending the occasional donation, and answering the call to march when it’s made. So much of the problem seems global past our reach, so how do we have impact on such a huge crisis locally?

One answer to this question was provided by Kevin Whelan when I was talking to him recently on Wade’s World. Kevin after years as a community organizer and communications specialist with ACORN and others, is now executive director of Minnesota 350, and in our conversation it became clear that he and his associates there are trying to develop an organization and action model that translates the horror of global climate change into local action. is a well-known campaign and advocacy formation focusing on climate change, started as Whelan described it, by a professor, in this case Bill McKibben, and “seven students.” 350 refers to the level at which carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere passes the critical point at 350 parts per million. It is now over 400.

As Kevin described it, Minnesota 350 is a rarity though. It is not an affiliate of nor was it organized by Rather, there were some activists in Minnesota who saw climate change as a critical issue and wanted to figure out a way to respond to the crisis, and decided to organize and reached out to and essentially asked if they would mind if they used 350 as part of the name of the organization they wanted to build. So, yes, the website says, but that’s more of a website thing than anything else. They are certainly federated and allied with, but an independent and autonomous operation in Minnesota.

This has translated in recent years to a lot of involvement and organizational action in pipeline fights. They played a key role in opposing a pipeline from the controversial and dangerous Tar Sands area of Alberta, Canada that would have run to Lake Superior, that is stopped for now. They were also heavily involved in supporting the Standing Rock fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which galvanized a movement, though thus far has a less happy ending. Kevin movingly described four visits to Standing Rock and how much it meant.

Minnesota 350 has learned many lessons in how to bring this global catastrophe to the level of local action but in talking to Kevin, they believe they need to bring-the-fight-home by figuring out a way to inject the issue into local and state politics, which would also mean holding representatives elected to represent Minnesota in Congress accountable on this issue. It’s hard to argue with that conclusion, and it is worth keeping an eye on Minnesota 350, because we might all need to follow their lead.