Favorites on Friday: Many Voices Working Together to Protect Wildlands In Montana

Swan Range, Proposed Addtion to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Photo: Zack Porter

Conservation Alliance grantee, Montana Wilderness Association, is working to protect nearly a million acres of Montana's wildest backcountry through the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.  Jack Rich is one of many voices – including conservationists, recreationalists, outfitters, business owners, forest managers, and others – that have helped shape the collaborative legislation.  Support from the Conservation Alliance has helped the Montana Wilderness Association build strong community support for this grassroots, collaborative solution for the future of our public lands.

Since 1982, Jack Rich has been introducing people to Wilderness in a way that "speaks directly to the heart." That was the year he first began managing Rich Ranch Outfitting, located near Seeley Lake, MT, on the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, where Jack's family has been outfitting trips for several generations. The Bob Marshall Wilderness was created with the passage of the original Wilderness Act in 1964, which specifically allowed outfitting to continue because it was "consistent with the purpose of the act".

Jack believes that recreation is listed as the first purpose in the Wilderness Act not by chance, but because recreation is the pathway to preserving the quality of these lands. Without ample opportunity to experience Wilderness, he worries that people could lose interest in its value. "What makes the idea of wilderness tangible for people is the ability to experience wildness that touches the heart first hand," he says. "It's the outfitter's job to facilitate this experience."

Jack believes that experience leads to action, and he's lived a life that would seem to prove his theory. About ten years ago, he began working with the local snowmobile club, the local sawmill, members of the Montana Wilderness Association, and the Wilderness Society to establish a vision for the long term management of the legendary Blackfoot and Clearwater River Valleys, made famous by Norman Maclean's novel, "A River Runs Through It." That vision included improved snowmobile recreation, Wilderness protection for the headwaters of the Blackfoot and Clearwater rivers, and provisions for increasing forest stewardship and restoration.

"We laid out that vision, but we needed a legislative vehicle," Jack explains. "It was Senator Tester who came to us to ask if we were interested in getting this done. We saw Senator Tester as a person of integrity, so we stepped up to the plate." The Blackfoot Clearwater project was included in the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which was first introduced in 2009 and continues to be a top priority for Senators Tester and Baucus of Montana. In 2010, Jack received Montana Wilderness Association's Brass Lantern Award in 2010 for his work on the legislation, and for a lifetime spent sharing the Bob Marshall Wilderness with others.  

"We've been privileged," Jack says.  "These lands provide more than livelihoods and recreation. These lands provide passion for our lives. We want to prevent something from happening that would deprive our children of the same source of inspiration."

Learn more about the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act by clicking here.