"I want to see people enjoy this country the way it was meant to be enjoyed, the way God created it," says Tim Faber, speaking about Montana’s arid, rough-hewn Missouri River Breaks. "It’s a place like no other place in the world."
Faber grew up on a cattle ranch in the Bear’s Paw
Mountains east of Big Sandy, Mont. He started exploring the Breaks
in earnest when he was in high school. His family did outfitting on
the side, and he helped out-of-state hunters find prize antelope,
mule deer and white-tailed deer, chasing big bucks through this
prairie and badland wilderness dotted with high, piney buttes. His
dad knew an old homesteader down the river, and they’d often
hike around the homestead.
"I just kind of fell in love
with it after that," recalls Faber, a bachelor who makes his living
as a carpenter and sometime ranch hand. To this day, Faber keeps a
water jug and a daypack in his truck so he can bound into the
badlands on short notice. Mostly he sets out alone, camera tucked
away for telling moments. Though he prefers to stay behind the
scenes, and doesn’t join conservation groups, he’s
spent years going to meetings, hoping to convince decision-makers
that the place is worthy of protection.
In early 2001,
with Faber and others pushing in the background, President Bill
Clinton created a 377,346-acre national monument in the Missouri
River Breaks. Faber calls it "one of the best things Bill Clinton
did" — a stance that at times draws strong rebuke in this
rugged enclave of anti-federal leanings.
however, that the monument designation "really doesn’t mean
that much" unless it forces the Bureau of Land Management to change
the way it manages the land. The agency has tentatively proposed
closing only about 70 miles of the hundreds of miles of
unauthorized two-tracks within the monument. If its forthcoming
management plan doesn’t shut down more byways, the monument
would remain crisscrossed with off-road vehicle trails.
"We’ve got too many armchair politicians who haven’t
even been down there in the Breaks," Faber says. "They need to go.
There’s a whole lot more people who want to see a good
management plan, and to see some of these roads closed down, than
these politicians ever dreamed of."
Another point of
contention is the 81,000 acres of private land within the monument
boundaries. Managers say they won’t incorporate this property
unless ranchers sell it willingly. Nonetheless, Rep. Dennis
Rehberg, R-Mont., and others have fanned local fears of a
government takeover (HCN, 10/27/03: Bill would redraw the
boundaries of national monument).
disappointment, Clinton’s proclamation allows development of
a dozen pre-existing oil and gas leases on the monument. Faber, who
has worked as a roustabout on gas pipelines and compressor
operations, says he’d rather see more sustainable forms of
economic development in the Breaks, including nonmotorized
outfitting for hikers, hunters and canoeists.
summer’s Lewis and Clark Bicentennial will bring a steady
stream of new visitors, seeking places where the landscape remains
largely the same as the one the explorers passed through. The
prospect of increased tourism in the area troubles him, but Faber
figures the public interest will help save what’s left.
"It will never be the same here as (it was) 25 years
ago," he says. "People won’t have the same opportunities for
solitude. They’re not going to have the same spiritual
experiences that I have. But they’ll have their own."