Finding a balance between capitalism and natural resources

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Back in 1898, near the headwaters of the Missouri River in what is now Glacier National Park, my great grandfather found and drilled the first oil wells in Montana. He also found the school teacher in Altyn (who was 33 years younger) and on their windy mining claims on Swiftcurrent Creek, they raised 17 children. It was a hard life, but as my grandfather (No. 13) used to say, “It was a good place to get the stink blowed off ya.”

Now fast forward 120 years and go down the Missouri River 1000 miles to Standing Rock, North Dakota. Last winter my daughter Jessy was hit by a rubber bullet there, while helping the Sioux protect the river from the oil giants. She was unhurt and the pipeline went through anyway, but it got me thinking about some things.

Our family has made our living directly from Montana’s natural resources through forest products, logging, mining, ranching, trapping, hunting and guiding. Over the years, and through mistakes, we learned a few lessons — like you always give something back, and you don’t take too much too fast.

This brings me to our current political leadership.

Trump, Zinke, Pruitt, Gianforte, and Daines all ride the same horse of unbridled capitalism and seem hell bent on turning our last natural resources into dollars as soon as possible. Gutting the EPA, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, removing endangered species recovery, canceling wilderness study areas, reducing national monument designation, lifting air and water regulations, ignoring climate change, and dismissing scientific data and research are only a few deeds that make their agenda clear.

Maybe I shouldn’t blame them. Their backgrounds are far from the land and they measure wealth with money. They probably never heard a meadowlark sing, probably never saw the springtime up on the Great Divide. Maybe they never felt a kinship with this earth and don’t even know that it can be your friend and something to love. Still, you would think they would know that a healthy economy must be connected to a healthy environment.

Are we really going to let America descend into a hog wild frenzy of consumerism and resource exploitation and let corporate power and greed control our politics? Even now, we have not yet paid the true cost for the standard of living we enjoy. The true cost includes the price of the environmental degradation and health consequences that we are handing down to our children.

Every real dollar in our economy begins with the raw resources from the earth and is then multiplied by the resources of the people. Our obvious challenge then is how to use the resources sustainably, while we sustain an economy, while we also sustain this wonderful circle of life around us — which actually sustains us.

Are we smart enough to do it? Do we care enough to do it? My daughter thinks so, and that gives me hope.

Mike Stevenson is sustainably building a townhome development in Missoula. He has spent many years in the back country hiking, hunting, trapping, guiding, mule packing, and working on wildlife research projects.

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