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for people who care about the West

Trouble In Mind


Two images stand out from photographs I’ve taken here in northwestern Montana in the last couple months. One is from hunting for deer in November, the other from hunting a Christmas tree last weekend.

The snowshoe hare in mid November is practicing “mind over matter.”

He trusts his natural camouflage to keep him safe, even though there’s barely any snow on the ground. He stood out like a cue ball on a pool table.

The second is a grizzly bear track I photographed while cutting a Christmas tree on national forest near my home with my family. I took the image on a balmy day, December 3. A biologist friend of mine here told me that fully half of his radio collared grizzly bears were still awake and roaming in early December this year, when they should be denning up for a winter’s worth of beauty sleep.

Taken alone, these images are only evidence of one mild late fall in northwestern Montana. Just like, taken alone, the images of Hurricane Sandy pummeling New York City are just evidence of another nasty storm on the Atlantic Seaboard.

But I cannot take them alone. I have to interpret them with the help of folks like Dan Fagre, of the US Geological Survey, who has documented the disappearance of the glaciers in my local Glacier National Park.

I am no scientist, just as I am no doctor. But just like I trust a good doctor when I get sick, I have to trust a good scientist to help interpret the world around us.  And scientists are telling us these poorly dressed hares, insomniac grizzly bears and melting glaciers are what we can expect if our pollution continues to blanket the atmosphere, changing the Earth’s climate. Increasingly, scientists are telling us that climate change is no longer a threat, but a reality. And that human-generated pollution is a big part of the problem.

I believe human beings are smart enough to get out of this problem. That rabbit, though, better pray hard for snow in the meantime.

Images: Snowshoe hare on the Kootenai National Forest; grizzly bear track on the Flathead National Forest. © Ben Long.

Ben Long is an outdoorsman, author and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director for Resource Media.