Kit Fischer Commentary: “Your Secret’s Safe With Me”

I’ve visited the East Rosebud River every summer I’ve lived in Montana.
Flowing North out of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the East Rosebud winds for some 30 miles before it’s joined by other aspen-lined tributaries- eventually flowing into the Stillwater and the Yellowstone River near Columbus. The water runs cold and clear, with very little diverted for agriculture and nearby development. By late August, when other streams feel like luke-warm kiddy pools, the creek remains cooled by the high elevation snowmelt fed from the 10,000 foot Beartooth plateau. Rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout feed voraciously – even during the middle of the day, feasting on the thousands of grasshoppers blown in from the gusty winds that come down the granite canyons to the south. The bird life is equally spectacular – western tanagers, yellow warblers, rare broad-tailed hummingbirds and far off, the eerie call of what sounds like some prehistoric teradactyl, the trumpet of a sandhill cranes fill the valley.
The river is lined with thick willows, redosier dogwood and aspen thickets, forming a nearly impenetrable fortress from would be wade fishermen. The stream still flows how an old mountain stream should; the cutbanks constantly shift during spring runoff and the willows and beavers take care of the rest. Its fine gravel bottom reflects sunlight from mica and quartz instead of beer cans and bumpers. In 1989 the Forest Service deemed a seven mile section of the creek suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation, although Montana hasn’t awarded a new wild and scenic designation since 1976.
Between the challenging access, icy cold waters, hairpin turns and beaver dams, the river (although probably more accurately, a creek) does a pretty good job of keeping itself a secret. I’ve only taken a handful of good friends fishing there in the 20+ years I’ve made my yearly pilgrimage and I’ve never seen another soul on the river.
We usually haul over my family’s venerable aluminum Grumman canoe. A now ancient relic that my folks acquired in the 70s and has probably explored more Montana rivers than I could list. It’s virtually indestructible. A tank of a canoe, it’s probably worth more in scrap metal than its resale value as a watercraft, but it has never let us down, even after dinging rocks loud enough to alert every fish in the river.
But even the best kept secrets don’t last. I should have known better—it’s often the secret places that are most overlooked for their recreational and wildlife values when energy development and resource extraction come along– and the East Rosebud is no exception. A Bozeman energy development company has recently announced their interest in exploring the possibility of developing a hydropower site on the river. A dam would be located just upstream from my “secret spot”.
It seems to be the catch-22 of all the great hunting and fishing spots that I’ve frequented in Montana. If it’s an easy place to get to, and the wildlife is abundant, the secret won’t last long—but at least it will exist for future generations. It’s the places that take a little extra effort to access – via two track, rutted dirt roads, singletrack trails and bushwacking– not highways and hotels– that tend to hold the best kept places. These places are naturally guarded from becoming huge tourist destinations, but not guarded from development- and Montana’s got plenty of them.
Maybe this year when I make my trip to the East Rosebud I’ll bring a couple more friends along and hopefully in return they will show me some other tucked away secret Montana place.

Kit Fischer writes on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation.

Nick Roberts Commentary: “Kids and Nature”

The way our children experience and relate to what many of us consider our absolute greatest asset, the natural world, is changing. As our youngest Americans open their eyes to explore the world around them, they are seeing and feeling something quite different than any generation before them. Almost as an afterthought, our kids are finding the outdoors less and less on their own, and our communities are either not recognizing this disconnect, or even more troubling, are simply allowing our children to get lost in the Great INdoors. And what is at stake? Everything: Our kids’ health, their sense of identity and place, and ultimately the future of conservation and stewardship of the treasures our Treasure State, our country, and our planet.

I grew up in an urban area in the East Tennessee, but surrounded by one of the most beautiful natural environments I’ve ever seen- the Southern Appalachian Mountains. I’ll spare you all of the tales in which I found myself weaving in and out of ancient hills and tip-toeing through paralyzingly cold waters, but what I will tell you is that I’ll never my forget best friend Mike and I fashioning a flotilla of sticks, bark, mud, and the like, to be launched down a 3-foot wide stream, and all of the imaginative commentary we yelled as we chased across a small urban park in the middle of Knoxville, TN.

Many American communities have that park in their backyard, or close by. Few have Montana. In fact, only WE have Montana.

Today, our children are spending as much as 7.5 hours a day connected to electronic games, cell phones, television, or computer screens. This alarming trend has replaced their engagement with nature, not to mention the cost it poses to their physical and mental health. We’ve learned that time spent indoors can be directly related to diabetes, obesity, poor eyesight, vitamin D deficiency, decreased attention span, poor academic performance, and ultimately, a shorter life span. As recently as 2005, nearly one third of Montana’s children were considered obese. Ironically, in an era when conservationists have made arguably the most significant gains in preservation of habitat, wildlife protections, and water safety, we are still left wondering if our youngest generation is being prepared to carry on this crucial work into the future.
The good news is that Montana can boast having a number of already- established, superior outdoor education initiatives, recreational programs, hunting and angling instruction, and academic field opportunities. And of course, our access to the outdoors and the natural world is incomparable. In recognition of both the urgency and implications of our kids’ connection with nature and the breadth of our resources in Montana, the National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies and Prairies Regional Office is making it our top priority to embolden and enhance our state’s commitment to the health of our children, and to the future of conservation.

Framed by a national campaign to connect 10 million new kids with nature by 2014, our Northern Rockies Office is thrilled to join this pursuit on behalf of our home state. To this end, we are coordinating several projects that we hope will reconnect our kids with the outdoors. In the short term, we are inviting kids and families to attend our upcoming Great American Backyard Campout on June 23rd hosted by Travelers’ Rest State Park in Lolo as well as our Evening on the Ranch benefit event on June 29th hosted by wildlife advocate Jack Hanna and Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork. Longer term, we are developing an action plan that we are confident will build momentum in Montana’s Kids and Nature Movement as we are convening statewide leaders from the academic, recreation, public health, faith-based, and conservation communities in partnership with MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department for an important workshop in Helena on June 12th. This workshop will affirm a diverse and committed network of organizations, businesses, and individuals that will seek to empower our systems AND the great people in Montana to change our kids’ lives and serve this stunning place we call home.

I’m a father of 5 children, of all ages. I watch them struggle everyday with the distractions of our modern world, and I can’t blame them. I maintain hope that as we build our personal, private relationships and outdoor rituals with our kids, they do soak it in. More than we know in those moments. And as we, the “old” people in their lives know, ourselves, those experiences breathe powerfully within them and become who they are, and how they are.

Having THEM is the greatest honor I’ve been given, and having this beautiful place to show them is a close second. Join me.

Nick Roberts writes on the behalf of the National Wildlife Federation