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Know the West

'We don't rest ... on economics'


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Bob Decker has put in 14 years working for several Montana wilderness groups. Now he's executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association, which, he says, works the grass roots, with 10 staffers in offices spread around the state. Eighty-five percent of the group's 4,300 members live in state. But because wilderness is federal land, the grass roots connect to the federal politics.

Bob Decker: "Groups assume certain styles. Some work the court system, some are heavy with staff leadership, some are working the agency leaders, some invest in a presence in Congress. Ours works the grass roots. Grassroots organizing * that's become a catchphrase, but there aren't many groups doing it.

"We worked several years to organize community support for (then-forest supervisor) Gloria Flora's decision to ban oil and gas leasing in national forest on the Rocky Mountain Front in 1997. It was a self-generated issue. Our Great Falls chapter (nearest the Front) took the lead and it included our other chapters around the state.

"We had a letter-writing campaign, newspaper editorials and ads, we made presentations to Rotary Clubs and county commissions, we had tables at county fairs, we hosted field trips. That kind of organizing and show of public support gave (Flora) room to maneuver.

"(Montanans) value the wild, but many don't value it as much as (they) fear for their jobs and the economy. ... We work with outfitters and other people who make a living in the wilderness, but we don't rest our position on the economics. Wilderness is about spiritual and biological values, more than the economics."