Where did Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora get the courage to say no to the oil and gas industry?
"Mostly from other people," she said, at the end of a long day after her decision. "I look at certain people within the agency that I've known, who have made an impact. It may be a former boss, or a co-worker. In the old books by Rick Graetz, you look at the pictures of the people involved on earlier issues of the Front, and it's Carley (MacCaulay) and Margaret Adams and Gene Sentz.
"You look at them and say, "My God, I'm breezing through for a short time, and these people have spent their whole lives protecting this place." (Former U.S. Representative) Pat Williams fought for 18 years for the Front.
"You see all these people, and you think if they could do it, I can do it."
Now that final environmental impact statement is out, Flora said the hardest part is over. "I had spent the whole summer exploring the issue. At some point I started making phone calls, asking, "What if?" And once I started, it was so easy. I had support from above." In her 20 years with the Forest Service, she said, she has begun to see the agency evolving to become more responsive to the public.
The concerns expressed in more than 1,000 letters weren't only biological or ecological, she added. The Forest Service staff recognized that the Front was special, and that the question: "What does this place feel like to someone?" was a valid question.
Questioned during the press conference about the expected negative reaction from the oil and gas industry, Flora said: "Ask FINA and Chevron how much they've spent on the Badger-Two Medicine." Although the two oil companies hold leases in the Badger-Two Medicine, their leases are under suspension because of the area's cultural significance. Both companies have indicated a willingness to exchange or sell their lease rights.
The writer is publisher of The Great Times in Great Falls, Montana, which just began its second year.