10 years post September 11: Keeping America free and open


Almost 10 years ago, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, my wife and I back-packed from near our home in Kalispell, Montana to Waterton Lakes National Park, in Alberta, Canada. For documentation, we carried our driver’s licenses, although I don’t recall anyone asked for much of a look.

We just returned from another Waterton vacation. This time, we needed passports to cross the Medicine Line. Officials inspected the documents closely both going north and south. Border posts were beefed up. The post-

9/11 reality has firmly taken root.

But while bureaucracies create walls, economies and ecosystems break them down. 

In Alberta, oil is king and the wallets are fat. Canadians squeeze energy out of their tar sands and send it to the US in exchange for cash. We Americans burn the gas, polluting the atmosphere we share with the entire world.

Meanwhile, the Albertans we met on our vacation all love western Montana. They knew our local retail outlets better than we do and their hunger for second homes is driving the northwest Montana real estate market.

There’s nothing new to this. My town of Kalispell was founded by a Montana steamboat magnate who made his millions shipping pelts and hides out of Canada, while supplying beef and hard goods to the Mounties and the Canadian First Nations more than a century ago.

Sometimes, ecosystems act like economies. The jagged peaks and frigid waters of Montana, British Columbia and Alberta are sometimes called the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. Fish and wildlife are dual citizens, who ignore the silly swath we humans have cut across the forest, marking the international boundary, as they search out their own resources.

Karen and I found fresh grizzly tracks on a beach at Waterton Lakes National Park. That bear doubtless wanders into the United States over the summer, looking for food or a mate, utterly oblivious to this idea of “nation.” But that line matters – on one side he’s a protected species on the other a big game trophy.

I am in favor of the free flow of dollars, ideas and DNA across artificial borders.

Fortunately, some conservationists, academics and land and wildlife managers are working hard to think across borders as well. From the prairie to the mountains, it’s increasingly clear that wildlife management needs to think beyond the one-way mirrors of political boundaries. With the global population nearing 7 billion people, we better get the lesson soon: We are all in this together. Understanding that is the real key to national security.

Ten years after 9/11 it seems a good time to ask: Is America getting more insular, more closed? Where are opportunities to think beyond borders?         

Image: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, is part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. (c) Ben Long.

Ben Long is an American citizen, with documents to prove it, living in Kalispell, Mont., USA. He is also a senior program director at Resource Media.

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