It was once said that bad ideas die with the people who hold them. If only that were true. In viewing the opening of the Montana Legislature, it is apparent that the anti-conservation, anti-environment, anti-public land and anti-wildlife philosophy of Montana’s most notorious politician is vigorously alive in 2011.
By way of refresher, William A. Clark was our U.S. senator from 1901-1907. At the time, it was a position filled through vote of the state Legislature. For Clark it was “… a position he had initially purchased with bundles of crisp $100 bills handed out to legislators in monogrammed envelopes – W.A.C. stamped on the fold, $10,000 per vote.” Clark’s defense at the time was, “I never bought a man who was not for sale.” The prize then, as it is now, was privatization and commercialization of natural resources.
Posewitz grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin during the 1940s and 50s, at a time when even common wildlife, such as deer, were literally nowhere to be found across even the rural landscape of forests, fields and farmland, the inevitable results of over-hunting and poor management. I too was born in Sheboygan in the early 70s and was raised in the rural village of Elkhart Lake, about 20 miles outside of Sheboygan. Given the hundreds and hundreds of deer we’d see biking or driving country roads as a teenager, it’s literally hard for me to even comprehend how this landscape could have possibly been devoid of even the most common forms of wildlife.
Posewitz came from an incredibly athletic, I’d even say legendary, Sheboygan family. During the 1930s, John and Joe “Scoop” Posewitz were stars for the Sheboygan Red Wings, a professional basketball team that would go on to become the smallest market team in the NBA, successfully taking on the likes of the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. Legendary basketball coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach, who’s team went 0-3 at Sheboygan during the NBA’s 1949 inaugural season, looked at Sheboygan, and their fans, with great distain. To this day, when I check the Sheboygan Press sports page, there’s good chance some member of the extended Posewitz family will be highlighted.
OK, enough of my Sheboygan-inspired digression. We’re all lucky, because Posewitz came to Montana in the 1950s on a football scholarship at Montana State in Bozeman. By the early 60’s – following 3 years in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division – Posewitz left MSU with a Masters of Science in Fish & Wildlife Management and started what would be a 32 year career with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
Jim’s accomplishments while with FWP are literally too numerous to list (again, check out his bio), but some of the highlights include:
• Fish and Wildlife management plans were developed under Jim’s direction for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
• In the mid and late 1970s efforts were underway to construct two dams on the Kootenai River of northwestern Montana. Under Jim’s leadership, baseline fish and wildlife research helped to seal the fate of both the Kootenai Re-regulating Dam and the Kootenai Falls Dam. Neither were constructed.
• Jim was instrumental in assuring that critical fish and wildlife language was incorporated into the 1980 Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act.
• When the Montana Water Use Act of 1973 was passed, it was entirely attributed to Jim Posewitz and his biologists who spent years in the field then weeks in court on the witness stand, adroitly testifying on behalf of fish and wildlife habitat needs. This was the first time that fish and wildlife needs were recognized as legal uses of water.
Posewitz has also founded Orion: The Hunter’s Institute, which provides leadership on ethical and philosophical issues to promote fair chase and responsible hunting. He’s also an excellent writer, who’s book, Beyond Fair Chase, has been printed over 500,000 times and is required reading for many hunter education courses.
The battle between exploitation and conservation has persisted through the century that followed, generally with pseudo-conservatives attacking conservation budgets, vilifying those carrying the conservation message, and purging progressive political thought from their own political ranks.
In conclusion, welcome to the 2011 Montana legislative session and its promise to privatize and commercialize our wildlife; repeal environmental protection; weaken laws passed that protected our air, land and water; and to do what it can to peddle the last ton of Western coal to Asia as the planet chokes.
Thus, it is once again time for the people to express themselves in support of the legacy that delivered this Last Best Place to our custody. There will be a number of conservation nonprofit organizations monitoring the legislative process. They deserve our support and when they call for our help, we all need to respond. It will be up to “we the people” to preserve the legacy passed to us and our time. Posterity will judge us just as we have judged those who preceded us.