Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Run Over By The Woke Train

John Keegan 
I got booted off and run over by the woke train.

Some guy named John Keegan from Missoula posted on my my Facebook page that our nation’s founders only supported freedom for “wealthy white Christian male slave owners.”

That’s a bit of an oversimplification, I responded. Some of our founders opposed slavery and never owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson was a staunch defender of religious freedom, successfully fought against including the word “God” in the Constitution, and — as hypocritical and contradictory as it may seem — he spoke against slavery and hoped the use of the phrase “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence might someday help resolve the issue of slavery.

(He also said the notion of men being “created” can’t be true, because there is no god to create men. I agree there’s no god. But people are created. I certainly helped create my son — or perhaps the mailman did — but regardless, he was created. Our founders seemed smart enough to leave some interpretations up to individuals.)

Here’s something our founders did: They left us a Constitution providing the methods and means to change things — a document capable of being amended, adapted and reinterpreted to different times, beliefs and attitudes — and at least let us strive to advance the notions of freedom and equality for all.

He said my statements were based on “propaganda” and “myth” and I should open my mind.

I told him my statements were based on historical documents, research, and the writings of our founders and others, and suggested that perhaps his statements might be propaganda and myth, and he should consider my views with an open mind.

He accused me of being “rude.” I said I was responding in kind to mirror his rude comments and just trying to have a rationale discussion.

He said his comments weren’t rude because they were “true,” but I was being a “rude asshole,” and my “stupidity” didn’t surprise him considering I was “from Darby.”

I explained that, though I once lived in Darby many years ago, I am from Connecticut and live in Missoula. I also stated that not everyone from Darby is the same. There’s a diversity of people there. Some are actually good, smart people.

He accused me of making fun of a guy for wearing makeup. Not true. In fact, I deleted a comment on my page from a guy who made fun of someone who wears makeup. But truth and facts apparently don’t matter to Keegan. Like many in today’s world, he resorted to fabricated personal attacks to compensate for his insecurities and inability to intelligently debate issues.

I suspect he suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He was definitely incapable of recognizing that many of his statements and accusations were reflections of himself. Even when I “mirrored” his thoughts, he responded, “Don’t you have anything original to say?”

Then he called me a “stupid, simple-minded ignorant asshole” and blocked me.

Such ignorance and arrogance, lack of critical thinking skills, and inability to engage in civil, respectful discussion is a bipartisan malady, eating away at all sides, and contributing to the divisive erosion of our nation. People like John Keegan are as bad, if not worse, than the Trump supporters they love to sanctimoniously hate and attack. They should spend more time looking in the mirror.

I’m not sure I want to be woke.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

A Slow Stroll Through Camp Town

The walk across and under the Reserve Street bridge isn’t written up in any Missoula hiking guides, Chamber of Commerce pamphlets, Office of Tourism Brochures or in the flood of “Come Visit-and-Fly-Fish-Montana” magazine articles. If it were, there’d likely be a warning about the putrid stench of the Dailey’s rendering plant, where bacon is processed (“Premium Meats Since 1893”) and how, if the breeze is drifting towards you, as it was towards me that day (gusts of wind up to 100 miles-per-hour, and 60-degrees, in February, in western Montana!), it won’t take long before you feel nauseous. Or maybe it’s the sights under the bridge that made me nauseous. . . and queasy, and uneasy, and guilty, and a bit ashamed, and fortunate.

I walked on the sidewalk south across the bridge, away from the giant American Flag behind me, flying above the old Perkins restaurant (soon to be yet another brew pub), serving as a welcoming gateway of sorts to the homogenistic stretch of anywhere-in-America mega super stores -- Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, CostCo, Best Buy, Target, Barnes and Noble -- built on the former ranchlands where I used to hunt.

Beyond the railing to my left, about 50 yards below, was the Clark Fork River, flowing rapidly underneath me and west from the direction of downtown. The tallest of the buildings -- the historic Wilma theatre, the First Interstate Bank, the recently-opened Residence Inn by Marriot where the Mercantile used to be -- are all visible in the distance from the bridge, as are the tall, snow-capped mountains above the University and framing Hellgate Canyon beyond. I was both surprised and concerned to see no ice. None. In February!

Just a dozen feet away, across the rusty railing to my right, between sidewalk and traffic, were hundreds of people sitting in a seemingly endless line of cars and trucks and SUVs, bumper to bumper, for as far as I could see, with nothing better to do as they crawled along, so it seemed, than watch me walk across a bridge. I felt a bit self-conscious, wondering – dressed as I was in dirty tan cargo pants, torn grey flannel shirt, old green wind parka and worn baseball-style cap adorned with the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor -- if any or all of these people behind their steering wheels and in passenger seats wondered if I was one of them, a citizen of the camps below, and then I wondered if and why it would even matter what they wondered?

On the northeast side of the bridge, in a dead dull golden field of invasive knapweed, close to Dailey’s meats, is a large billboard with a photo of an inviting, modest-looking home for sale by Christies International Real Estate, “On Foothills Drive in Florence, $699,900.”  Across the street, on the southwest corner of Reserve and Mullan, a man wearing a black hoodie and red MAGA hat waved a bright red, white and blue banner: “TRUMP 2020, No More Bullshit.”

When I reached the south side of the bridge, I hopped over the metal railing to my left and, while carefully and clumsily walking and sliding down a steep, muddy hillside littered with garbage and shopping carts, down towards the little town of camps, I met two Missoula police officers who were on their way up. One of them, who introduced herself as Detective Brueckner, told me they had recovered a body from one of the tents earlier in the day. “He likely died in his sleep,” she said. “Apparently, he died a while ago.”

The bottom of the hill leveled out onto a flat, rocky floodplain, near a small grove of cottonwoods, about 100-yards or so from river’s edge, with mostly calf-high grasses and weeds in between, and round, fist-to-bowling-ball size rocks, exposed and polished by hundreds of years of spring flood currents, with an occasional dead or dying cottonwood here and there, some already fallen to the ground, where plastic shopping bags and other garbage and woody debris from previous flooding accumulated on the windward and upriver sides. Separated by maybe 50-300 yards, on either side of the bridge, were a series of small camps, close to a dozen, constructed of cheap tents, tarps, pallets and cardboard boxes. A small town of sorts, mostly out of sight and out of mind, with a fluctuating population of 10-20 people. On this day, on this particular walk, I only saw a handful of residents, but more may have been sleeping or resting in their shelters, or off doing their best to gather food, water or money. I saw a lot of blackened fire rings, built from river rock, and wondered if it was mostly a nocturnal town. I made a mental note to visit sometime after dark. Maybe. 

I felt intrusive walking from camp to camp, skirting close to the edges, like an American tourist visiting a poverty-stricken third-world county, feeling fortunate for my own circumstances while pondering the plight of those who call this place home; Mental illness? Addiction? Bad choices? All of that and other things? It’s complicated, I know, but I couldn’t help but think about the mostly-celebrated groundbreaking currently underway a few miles upriver, near the heart of downtown, for yet another new $100 million hotel and events center being built by a millionaire who has been granted millions by the City Council in Tax Increment Funding because, well, it’s good for the economy.

Scattered everywhere were shopping carts and shopping bags from Target and Walmart and Albertsons; empty Pepsi and Coke cans; Nacho and Cheeto bags and an old, empty box of It’s It ice cream cakes. I saw a large, stuffed-animal black bear in a fire ring with its head ripped off, and a used syringe laying on the dirt nearby.  Somebody nailed a “Beware of Dog” sign on one of the cottonwoods, but I neither saw nor heard any canines to beware of. In one of the camps, I found two wet, moldy paperbacks sitting on a log: “How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life,” by the Dali Lama, and “The Leader’s Handbook: A Guide to Inspiring Your People and Managing the Daily Workflow,” by Peter R. Scholtes. I stepped in a hole and took a fall, spooking some magpies from their nearby perch of dead cottonwood branches and noticed fresh deer tracks in the mud in front of me.

Years ago, before the camps started popping up in 2000, I sometimes came here in the spring to photograph bald eagles, during that time of year when the river rapidly rises, filling up with freshly melted snow from the Mountains of western Montana and rushing it west towards the Columbia and Pacific.  I remember once wading through frigid, knee-deep water where some of these camps now sit, seemingly high and dry and safe during most of the year. Last May the river rose right into the tents and carboard shelters, washing most everything, and even a few people, into the river. Local news reported that the folks living here “lost everything,” which might not seem like much, but was indeed everything to them.  People expressed understandable concern about the garbage washed away and floating towards Idaho. Every now and then I’ll read about bodies recovered from the river. 

On the night of July 31, 2014, a fight broke out between three of the men living in these camps. One of the men, 38, was viciously beaten and shot to death, then dumped in the river. His body was found a week later, and several weeks after that they caught the killer, who was 28, down in Louisiana. He’s serving a 40-year sentence.

Word quickly spread that this place is dangerous. Or can be. I didn’t sense any danger while walking around there, not in the middle of a warm, windy February day. I imagine the incident serves as a metaphor of sorts to the danger residents of this camp may pose towards themselves – a danger of self-destruction, the danger of being caught in a devastating cultural, economic and social whirlpool, swirling and swirling ever downward, into the depths of mental illness and addiction and unpaid bills and stigmas and judgements and bad choices and circumstance and -- who knows what else?-- struggling to keep afloat, or perhaps giving up, or maybe enjoying the ride in an “I don’t give a shit” sort of way, all fed and fueled and powered by numerous complex factors I can’t and won’t pretend to fully understand. Many or most or maybe all of these factors, no doubt, are out of their control, though I was recently called a “dumb liberal piece of shit” for thinking so. I will say this: I’ve ventured to the precipice of that vortex. If not for a remarkable, loving ex-wife and a wonderful, caring physician at the Veteran’s Administration I’m not sure how far down I’d have fallen. I know I wouldn’t be walking around these camps as an outsider with the luxury of contemplating such things. 

A guy named Joseph approached me from one of the camps, a good-looking  young man, perhaps 30, wearing a yellow North Face hoodie, blue jeans and gray tennis shoes. He asked me what I was up to, requested I not take photos of any people living there, and told me that his friend, a seemingly shy quieter man standing nearby, said I looked just like his pastor. “Same build, same walk, same look,” he said.

“He must be a handsome pastor,” I replied.

They both laughed.

I assured him I respected others enough to not take photos of them without permission, and was just checking things out, and would likely write about my visit. He didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he gave me his phone number and asked me to give him a call if I wanted to chat more. He was a life-long Montanan, he said, who “fell on hard times.” He recently moved to these camps from another along the Yellowstone River near Bozeman (“now THAT crazy river floods!” he said), and he hoped to help organize this camp a bit better, clean it up, make it more acceptable and livable.

“I’m a religious man,” he said. “I believe in the Ten Commandments. Do unto others. Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not kill. All of that. Unfortunately, not everyone lives by that, but we all need to.”   

I looked above, atop the massive concrete structure nearby, where lines of congested traffic slowly moved north, and south, to and from the big box stores, the economic heartbeat of America, beating faster and faster and faster.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Dee Saale of CSS Contracting: Should Racist, Bigoted, Homophobes Profit From The Citizens They Attack?

Dee Saale of CSS Contracting 
There's no doubt that social media, and the ability for folks to rudely insult each other from the safety of their keyboards, is contributing greatly to the corrosive divisiveness that's become so painfully prevalent in the United States. It seems to bring out the worst in people. It seems to turn some into children -- rude, spoiled, bratty, poorly behaved children.

Take Dee Saale for example.

She and her husband, Chris Saale, own a concrete company called CSS Contracting based in Clinton, Montana, 17 miles east of Missoula. She spends a lot of time online, mostly commenting on the Facebook pages of local newspapers, posting hateful, racist, bigoted and homophobic verbal attacks towards anyone and everyone who disagrees with her. Although she and her husband have a $900,000 contract with the city of Missoula, she apparently hates government.

I've written about her before (see "Confronting Our Alter Egos: Modern-Day Discourse in America"), after I attempted to have a civil, respectful chat with her. Among her many bizarre and irrational replies:  "Go eat a baby sick bastard . . . I see on your page your socialist borderline communist . . . imagine if you will a marine being a flaming liberal. No wonder you got the boot. U r a disgrace to the armed services. Its usually people like you that have trouble making it in the world they want somebody to take care of them while sitting in there safe space suckin their thumb. Lol.. . . Liberals have turned the USA into a pigpen society where anything goes. No morals, not class . . .now go to your safe space and suck on your thumb." 

She recently returned, and yet again hit me and others with a barrage of strange lies and insults. (She repeatedly wrote that I was "booted out" of the Marine Corps. (I wasn't.) She claimed I "work for the government." (I don't.) She stated that I'm from California (I'm not.)

An example of her fine prose: "You were probally kicked out of the marines for staring at other guys penesis in the shower . . . they probablly kicked your ass for it." (I didn't, and they didn't.)

She posted a story she found online about a time I was arrested after defending myself against a thief who robbed the store where I worked (see Convenience Store Clerk Charged) thinking it would hurt and discredit me. (It didn't. In fact, I'm kind of proud of the story. Here's my favorite parts: "Your honor, this is a pretty serious charge. The victim accused the defendant of taking his cigarettes, and when the customer threatened to beat him up, Mr. Stalling ended up strangling this guy. . . . Your honor, I personally know the defendant. When I used to work at the National Wildlife Federation, he worked there. In fact, he is a former president of the Montana Wildlife Federation, is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, and has no criminal history." The charges were dropped and the other guy was arrested for stealing.) 

Then, on a public Facebook page, she posted an official police mug-shot photo of an older, balding criminal with a beard. I have no idea who it is. But she wrote, "Pics don't lie. This is Dave Stalling!" (It isn't.)

The sad and pitiful irony: She accuses "all liberals" of being "liars" and "bullies."

I'm not sure why people behave towards others this way. It baffles and intrigues me. I suppose it could be mental illness. In Dee Saale's case I suspect it might be alcohol. In 2007, she wrecked her car while driving home drunk from a bar. Her husband came and got her before the police arrived and they fled the scene. When the police arrived at their house, her husband tried blocking them from getting to her. She was eventually apprehended, administered a sobriety test and arrested for DUI (her second DUI). She appealed the case, claiming the police entered her house "unlawfully." (See story here.)

This would all be pitifully silly if not for this: Should such a person who spends so much time and effort insulting and attacking citizens with hateful, racist, bigoted, homophobic rhetoric be allowed to have a $900,000 contract paid for, in part, by the very citizens she attacks? Aren't there some kind of standards of behavior and conduct expected from city contractors that are worked into the contract?

I hope to find some answers. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Cascade Grizzly Recovery: Conservation Northwest Director Accuses Wilderness Watch of "Mental Illness"

I don’t know much about Conservation Northwest, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to “protecting, connecting and restoring wildlands and wildlife” from the Washington Coast to the British Columbia Rockies. I like what I do know. I know it’s an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, a good organization I used to work for and continue to support. The organization’s founder and executive director, Mitch Friedman, seems to be a smart guy who passionately fights for a lot of important, worthwhile causes. Some folks might even consider him an extreme fundamentalist. I don’t. I’ve got a hunch he and I likely see eye-to-eye on most things.

He doesn’t handle disagreement so well. I was disappointed to read a harsh, erroneous rant he recently posted on his organization’s blog site unjustly ridiculing and attacking Wilderness Watch, a Missoula-based nonprofit I’ve supported since its inception in 1989.

In addition to other allegations, Friedman wrongly accuses the folks at Wilderness Watch of making “uninformed” statements and writes, “Such behavior, whether it’s out of laziness, ignorance, unbridled idealism, or any other cause, should be called out." In a Facebook post, he calls it “Fundamentalism. No different than evangelicals. It’s a mental illness.”

I’ve suffered from mental health issues. It’s not fun. It’s nothing to make light off. There exists a lot of stigmas related to mental illness; Friedman’s comments don’t help. I mentioned that in a reply to his Facebook post, and wrote, “Insinuating others have mental illness because they don’t agree with you is childish, rude and insulting.”

His response, in part: “I’m sorry to have offended you. But I wasn’t being glib. . . there is plenty of academic writing on how fundamentalism acts like a mental disease to impair clear thinking.” Apparently, Dr. Friedman arrogantly sees himself as the expert who gets to diagnose such things. Here’s what he sees as the symptoms:

Wilderness Watch recently took a position that differs from his organization’s regarding a plan by the U.S. Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to translocate grizzlies into the North Cascades in Washington. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement considers a range of alternatives – a “no action” alternative (A) and three action alternatives (B, C and D) that entail various levels of translocating captured bears from elsewhere, such as British Columbia and Montana, and releasing them in the Cascades. The ultimate goal is to establish a sustainable population of 200 grizzlies within the Northern Cascades Ecosystem where few, if any, grizzlies currently exist.

Like Friedman, and Conservation Northwest, I prefer Alternative C, known as the “incremental restoration” alternative, which would move 25 grizzlies into the ecosystem over the next 5-10 years.

My friends at Wilderness Watch disagree. Although they support the recovery of grizzlies in the North Cascades, they oppose the alternatives in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the following reasons: The use of helicopters (anywhere from 50 to 400 or more landings, they say) within designated wilderness areas, which violates the intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964; The stress, discomfort, disruption and possible death that could result from capturing, drugging and handling grizzlies; Bears would be removed from populations that are endangered, and because there is no “natural recovery” alternative being considered that would encourage and allow grizzlies to move in on their own.

Friedman responded to these reasonable, legitimate concerns like Donald Trump on a childish Twitter rage. He called Wilderness Watch’s concerns “so uninformed and ill-founded that it made me a bit embarrassed for the conservation movement as a whole . . . While Wilderness Watch’s argument may read well on paper and feel righteous to whoever wrote it, it is ill-informed.”

Then Friedman goes on to ‘refute’ Wilderness Watch with an argument that may read well on a blog, and make him feel righteous, but is ill-informed and packed with falsehoods. Friedman’s behavior, whether it’s out of laziness, ignorance, unbridled idealism, or any other cause, should be called out:

He correctly points out that individual incidences of capture-related mortality are rare, but either dismisses or ignores other concerns, backed by research, about the biological and ethical implications of frequently capturing, drugging, collaring and handling grizzlies.

My friend and Canadian wildlife biologist Kevin Van Tighem, former supervisor of Waterton and Banff National Parks, wrote this: “With regard to concerns about the dangers of transplanting bears: one of Alberta's leading grizzly experts documented a case where a healthy large male grizzly died of capture-related myopathy several days after having been leg-snared for research and he tells me he now suspects that there are more cases of this than believed. Grizzlies are powerful animals after all -- they can do a lot of harm to themselves fighting a snare but then, being tough survivors, also carry on with life (or a slow death) with little sign of the damage they've suffered. So concerns about handling risk etc. are completely valid.”

Whether or not you agree with the statements and concerns expressed by the folks at Wilderness Watch, they don’t seem so fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

Friedman insinuates that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population has been recovered. It hasn’t. Translocating bears into the area might be helping, but the population is barely hanging on and faces a lot of threats from continued human expansion and fragmentation of habitat. (Wilderness Watch is helping with the fight to protect critical grizzly habitat in the Yaak.) 

Friedman states that grizzly populations in northern Montana and British Columbia are “robust.”

They’re not.

Many scientists – and those of us who spend tons of time out among wild grizzlies, and have dedicated much of our lives to protecting wild grizzlies – know that, although we’ve come along way, our populations in Montana continue to face numerous threats and challenges from climate-change related alteration in habitat and diet, causing bears to expand more in search of alternative foods, which put them more in conflict with a growing and expanding human population. Grizzlies occupy less than two-percent of their historic ranges. More than 100 have been lost over the past 24 months to various human-caused factors. They are still listed as endangered. And because grizzlies are an apex predator that did not evolve with predation, and have slow reproductive rates, the loss of even a few grizzlies – particularly breeding-age sows and mature boars -- can have detrimental and long-term impacts to territorial and breeding behavior, the rearing and learning-periods for cubs and the overall long-term health and viability of populations. It can also result in increased conflicts between bears and humans.

Whether or not you agree with the statements and concerns expressed by the folks at Wilderness Watch, it doesn’t seem so fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

Friedman also accuses Wilderness Watch of a “falsehood” that “reveals lazy research” for stating that “information is lacking on the status of grizzlies on the Canadian side of the border.” Friedman states that “researchers have very good estimates of the state of grizzly populations in southern B.C.”

I talk to researchers in British Columbia about grizzly bears on a regular basis. Estimates of grizzly numbers in British Columbia vary, ranging from 6,000 to 17,000. Most biologists I talk to put the number at 15,000. “The non-precise population numbers in BC are reflective of low government funding for research and inventory,” states a report from the British Columbia Wilderness Committee. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, “estimates of populations sizes are based mostly on expert opinion, or extrapolation of estimates from small study areas to larger geographic areas, and are therefore considered uncertain . . . with no scientifically rigorous research to confirm numbers.” 

Van Tighem writes: “The NCDE population, which we share, has been expanding for several years and we now have bears resident in areas where they hadn't been seen for a century. Yes, they continue to face a variety of risks but human caused mortality, which is the most critical one, is way down. So I do believe we could spare the bears without a negative conservation consequence here.”

Whether or not you agree with the folks at Wilderness Watch, based on my non-lazy research their statements and concerns don’t seem so fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

Friedman also claims that the folks at Wilderness Watch “grossly exaggerate” the number of helicopter runs needed to transport bears into the North Cascades. They don’t. In fact, they understated it. Wilderness Watch claims that “anywhere from 50 to 400 helicopter trips could be made.” But according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, alternative C would require “up to 4 flights per release” with “5-7 releases per year for 5-10 years” resulting in “at least 100 flights.”  Alternative D would require up to “672 flights.”

“With regard to the Wilderness Watch concerns about protecting the integrity of protected wilderness, that's another legitimate concern,” Van Tighem writes. “For decades I observed (and was sometimes guilty of), and came to fervently oppose, the ways in which insiders like agency staff and holders of research permits give themselves exemptions from rules that apply to everyone else. Helicopter access being a case in point. Heli-hiking is not permitted in Canada's mountain national parks, but the air is full of helicopters transporting staff, researchers, their gear and food and their excrement to and from everywhere. When I was responsible for producing the current Banff management plan, I made sure there was direction there that operational use of helicopters would be restricted to emergency purposes only. Then I retired -- and the helicopters continue to buzz everywhere.”

Whether or not you agree with the statements and concerns expressed by the folks at Wilderness Watch, they don’t seem grossly exaggerated, fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

What seems to trigger Friedman the most is Wilderness Watch’s preference for “natural recovery.” “Such a position is wholly uninformed by the current scarcity of grizzlies across the region, the existing barriers in southern British Columbia to grizzly bear movement into the Cascades and the reproductive and dispersal limitation of female bears,” he wrote. “To achieve the stated goal of grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades, independent and government biologists are unequivocal that bear translocations into the ecosystem are necessary.”

Van Tighem doesn’t seem to think natural recovery is so far-fetched: “I personally disagree with trying to fast-track species recovery when a species is endangered by issues related to habitat integrity,” he writes. “I don't think we should do that to them if there is already a population in the Cascades or if there is potential for bears to spread there on their own.” 

I agree somewhat with Friedman on this. It’s why I support Alternative C. If there are indeed some grizzlies remaining in the Cascades of Washington, and reliable folks say there is, there isn’t time to wait for natural recovery. The bears could go extinct by then. Like many wildlife biologists and others, I’d prefer to see more brought in fairly quickly, and soon.

But is Wilderness Watch’s statement a sign of fundamentalism and mental illness?

Couldn’t a “natural recovery” alternative have been examined in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement? The report states that the “natural recovery” option is “characterized by the no-action alternative,” and that it would be “highly unlikely” to happen and would not meet the “purpose and need” of the recovery goals. But the folks at Wilderness Watch aren’t suggesting “no action,” they are suggesting actions be taken in surrounding areas, particularly in British Columbia, to address and reduce human-bear conflicts; the related ongoing killing of grizzlies; activities that diminish grizzly habitat, and taking actions to protect, enhance and expand habitat and migratory corridors with the hope grizzlies eventually move in to the Cascades.

I don’t agree in this case, but it’s certainly not a sign of mental illness. It does trigger some déjà vu.

In 1999 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a plan to reintroduce 25 grizzlies to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness and surrounding area as an “experimental, nonessential” population that would not be fully protected under the Endangered Species Act. The National Wildlife Federation, Defender of Wildlife and the Idaho forest products industry created and supported the plan. It had some merits. I sided and worked with the opposing side, with groups including the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Great Bear Foundation, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Clearwater, Sierra Club, the Craighead Wildlife/Wildlands Institute and Wilderness Watch. We opposed the plan for several reasons: We believed grizzlies already inhabited the area and therefore deserved (as required by law) full protection under the Endangered Species Act. We also felt that, given a chance, bears would eventually move in on their own. Before a decision was made, the plan was killed when George W. Bush moved into the White House.

But here’s my point: At the time, many experts – numerous experts -- said that bears never would, never could move in on their own. There were too many obstacles, they said. They were unequivocal that bear translocations into the ecosystem were necessary.

But the bears are moving in. Yes, it’s taken nearly 20 years or so, but it’s happening. This isn’t to say that the same would happen in the North Cascades. Even if it did, as I stated earlier, any grizzlies that may still inhabit the Cascades don’t have that kind of time.

But whether you agree with them or not, the statements from the folks at Wilderness Watch don’t seem so unreasonable, fundamentalist, or derived from mental illness to me.

Yet Friedman persists in referring to my friends at Wilderness Watch as fundamentalists with mental illness.

“I'm not going to debate this with you,” he wrote to me. “The folks at WW may be your friends, but their advocacy here is beyond misguided and uninformed, it (not for the first time) exposes a blind spot. You may not like the name I've given to that blind spot, but I'm ok with that.”

“Not for the first time,” he writes.

It’s certainly not the first time Wilderness Watch has been accused as being fundamentalists by arrogant, misguided and uninformed people like Friedman. Adhering to the principles, laws, regulations and intent of the wilderness Act doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. Anthropocentrism is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. A business mentality prevails among federal land managers (and, increasingly so, among conservation and environmental groups) that people are customers, that their every desire and whim must be served. If opinion polls reveal that 58.6 percent of respondents want more loop trails, picnic tables, lean-tos, stocked lakes and helicopter landing pads then, by golly, that’s what they’ll get, Wilderness Act be damned. Leadership—providing people with purpose, direction and motivation, explaining to people what is right, persuading them to follow—is sadly lacking, replaced instead by policies of compromise and appeasement. Those who get in the way on matters of principle are dismissed as "extremists," "purists," "elitists," "fundamentalists" . . .  "mentally ill."

One of the founders of Wilderness Watch, Bill Worf, was a friend of mine. Like me, he was a Marine. Like my father, he fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. He was instrumental in passage of the Wilderness Act, developed Forest Service regulations regarding the act, and was the first wilderness manager for the Forest Service. He died in 2011 at the age of 85. Although he went blind in his later years, I don’t believe he suffered from mental illness, although he was often called a “fundamentalist” for defending the Wilderness Act.

Once, while having dinner with him, he told me why he helped create Wilderness Watch. In the late 1980s, after he had retired, the Forest Service was allowing commercial outfitters and guides to build and leave permanent structures in the Frank Church River of Return Wilderness, in direct and clear violation of the Wilderness Act. Bill tried to get groups such as The Wilderness Society and Sierra Club to get involved, but they refused. They didn’t want to anger outfitters and guides, or groups like the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, because they relied on their support to help get other wild areas designated as wilderness.

I understand the need for organizations to build alliances. I have worked for the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation and Montana Wildlife Federation. I also served two terms as President of the Montana Wildlife Federation. Compromise and collaboration are important; they have their place. But what good is wilderness – how wild will wilderness remain – if the Wilderness Act is not enforced?

So Bill helped formed Wilderness Watch, to serve as a watchdog and ensure management agencies follow the spirit, law and intent of the Wilderness Act.

I have tremendous admiration and respect for the current executive director of Wilderness Watch, George Nickas. He's a smart, knowledgeable, passionate wilderness advocate who carries forth the vision of Bill Worf and the other founders. I don’t always agree with George, but as far as I know he doesn’t suffer from mental illness.

I mentioned this on Friedman’s Facebook page. A guy named David Dreher, who has worked for the National Wildlife Federation and the PEW Charitable Trust’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness, responded: “You have valid points, but don’t pretend Wilderness Watch defends the Wilderness Act. They’ve done more to erode and damage the Wilderness Act than any other group.”

I don’t pretend. I don't have to. The facts speak for themselves. Here’s just a few of the things Wilderness Watch has done to defend the Wilderness Act: They stopped the Park Service from allowing motorized sightseeing tours in the Cumberland Island Wilderness; they protected the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness from damage caused by overuse of commercial pack strings; they spearheaded efforts to get illegally-built resorts removed from the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness; they stopped the Park Service from allowing off-road vehicle use on the fragile tundra in the Gates of the Arctic Wilderness; they prevented 9-miles of road from being built into the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, and they kept the Forest Service from building 129 helicopter landing zones within a dozen wilderness areas in Alaska.

I could go on.

They’ve done more than any other organization I know to protect the ecological integrity of wilderness and ensure that wilderness remains, as the Wilderness Act states, "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

I’m grateful for what the good folks at Wilderness Watch have done and continue to do to keep wilderness wild. It's a good thing. It's not a mental illness.

I renewed my membership to Wilderness Watch today; please join me in supporting their important efforts. For more information, click here: Support Wilderness Watch!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Confronting Our Alter Egos: Modern-Day Discourse in America

Dee Saale of CSS Contracting in Missoula 
I’m a gun-toting former Force Recon Marine who hunts and fishes. I have a lot of values, beliefs and views that many would consider “liberal,” but I lean a bit to the “conservative” side on some things. I’m not a big fan of labels. Mostly, I consider myself American. I risked my life for (and have friends who have died for) the values and ideals of this nation, particularly freedom, including freedom of thought and opinion.

Many of my closest friends are conservative. Most the guys I served with in Force Recon are conservative. We all get along just fine. We’re all Americans. We can all engage in the kind of respectful, civil, rationale discussion, debate and compromise our nation was founded on.

Still, on social-media, I’ve been called “anti-American,” “socialist,” “communist,” “Libtard” and “snowflake” simply for expressing my opinion on various subjects (even when some of those views are no different than opinions once expressed by former conservative icons such as Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.)

I’m baffled by it, and intrigued. We’re living in angry, toxically-divisive times. Is it just social media? A proliferation of keyboard warriors? Would we be be so rude, obnoxious and disrespectful to each other in person?

I want to find out. Here’s two stories that I hope become an ongoing series, confronting our alter egos:

A few days ago at a coffee shop I saw a guy named Jerry Ballas who used to be a city councilman and is active with local veteran’s groups. I’ve met him before. He always seemed polite, in person. But on social media sites he regularly posts rude, mean, harsh, insulting, verbally-abusive comments attacking others, including me. So this morning I said hello, and he smiled and shook my hand.

“You always seemed like a nice, smart guy,” I said.

“Thanks,” he replied. “You too.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I try. But I’m curious, sincerely curious, just wondering, because it seems out of character for you, but why are you such an asshole to people online, why do you insult and attack folks and . . . “

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Online,” I said. “On Facebook, like on the Missoulian page, where you frequently insult and attack people . . . Several times you’ve called me an “idiot,” a “moron,” a “socialist snowflake” . . . “

I didn’t get a chance to finish. He turned reddish in color and hurried away.

A day later I was reading through Facebook comments on the page of a local newspaper. A woman named Dee Saale, who owns a Missoula-area concrete company called CSS Contracting (who has a $900,000 contract with the city, and apparently hates government while depending on government) was posting and seemingly insulting everyone and anyone she could. She referred to one friend of mine as a “bitch.”

I sent her a private note on Messenger:

Me: "I’m curious: why are you so mean, insulting and rude to people online? Are you like that in person?"

Dee Saale: "To liberal loonies..u bet. Let me ask you a question do you always stalk people.  You are not my friend you have no business being on my messenger"

Me: "I’m just sincerely curious why people are so rude and disrespectful to others online. It’s something I’m intrigued by, and writing about it. It’s a relatively new thing in our nation.”

Dee Saale: "Oh i see you are one of those 'govt officials' that likes to play God. Don’t ever forget where your paycheck comes from Bozo."

Me: "I don't work for the government. I was just attempting a sincere, honest conversation."

Dee Saale: "I don’t talk with people who are stalking me and Loony liberals. U r both, good day asshole."

Me: "I see. I wish you the best."

Dee Saale: "And I’ll let everybody know that you stalked me."

Me: "Okay. Thanks. I wish you the best."

Dee Saale: "I dont give you permission to use anything i say in a private conversation, lol Go eat a baby sick bastard"

Me: "I don't need your permission. I don't eat babies. I feel fine, and I am a legitimate child of a wonderful mother. But thanks."

Dee Saale: "Ditto"

Me: "Thanks for the feedback, and best wishes."

Dee Saale: “Imagine if you will a marine being a flaming liberal. No wonder you got the boot. U r a disgrace to the armed services. Now go to your safe space and suck on your thumb.”

Me: “Okay. Thanks.”

Dee Saale: “PS the silent majority is sick and tired of liberals spewing hate. Time for us to be silent no more.  Liberals have turned the USA into a pigpen society where anything goes. No morals , no class. I am just playing your stinky shameful game.”

Me: “Okay. Thanks for the feedback. Best wishes.”

Dee Saale: "Lol and from ate so indoctrinated in socialism you dont even know what freedom is. You will never understand the principles thus country was founded on. Do me a favor, read the 5000 year leap and let me know if u understand any if it. Very hard for a freedom hater like yourself."

Me: "I'm not from California. I'm not a socialist. I don't hate freedom. I was just trying to have a sincere conversation. I wish you the best."

Dee Saale: "I should do research on why people dont want to admit what they are. I see it on your page, socialism borderline communist. It’s usually people like that that have trouble making it in the world they want somebody to take care of them while sitting in their safe space suckin their thumb. Lol."

Me: "Okay. Thanks."

Dee Saale: "Got to get back to work now I’m an evil capitalist."

Me: "Okay. Have a good day."

Thursday, July 25, 2019

REAL Americans Will Share This!

In the beautiful, wholesome midwestern American town of Lake Wobegon — that little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve; where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average — a young pregnant Christian woman was on her way home from church where she had been praying for the safety of her courageous husband, who is serving overseas as a U.S. Marine, risking his life and sacrificing so much for our great nation, flag and freedom. After helping an old WWII veteran across a busy street, she entered a small convenience store (where an American flag proudly hung out front) to purchase some food to offer to a homeless Vietnam veteran she had just seen outside and thanked for his service. While trying to find some whole milk and 100-percent Grade A American beef among all the strange 2-percent, tofu and organic yogurt, a group of Muslims and one Mexican immigrant with an MS-13 tattoo entered the store. After kneeling before the American flag they demanded that the store clerk increase his employee’s wages and bake a wedding cake for their gay friend. They then approached the woman and — in-between loud, disruptive, anti-Semitic chants of “Allahu Akbar” — they demanded she put on a hijab and obey Shariah law. The Mexican with the MS-13 tattoo tried to sell her meth and threatened to rape her if she didn’t buy some. About that time, a tall, lean man wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat entered the store. Fortunately, he had an open-carry permit and was brandishing an LMT CQB MRP Defender Model 16 5.56 rifle, rightfully practicing his God-given 2nd Amendment rights. After tipping his hat to the flag and removing a small stem of wheat from his mouth, he glared at the Muslims (and the Mexican with the MS-13 tattoo) with his cold, steel eyes and slowly and clearly said: “Boys, I’m afraid you Socialists done come to the wrong town. Now I strongly suggest ya’ll go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which you come from and mosey on out of here. Otherwise . . . Well, hell . . . Let’s just say a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” Needless to say, they scurried on out of there. But what if the free and the brave armed American hadn’t shown up? This is what’s happening to our great nation, folks. It’s time to wake up! If you’re outraged by this and you support this woman and her Marine husband and America and our flag and God and President Trump and the 2nd Amendment and freedom you will share this. If you don’t share this, you’re part of the problem!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

This Montana Marine Veteran is Sick and Tired of ‘Anti-American’ Rhetoric

I’ve met Montana Senator Steve Daines a few times. I’m a constituent. Although I don’t agree with him on a lot of issues, he always seemed nice, professional and respectful. He was good to my son Cory, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. 

Once, when Daines was still a Congressman, my son and I visited his office in Washington D.C. to persuade him to support the renewal of the Muscular Dystrophy Care Act. (He did, and even called Cory days later to personal tell him about it.) He took Cory out onto the House floor, let him cast a few votes, and introduced him to then-Representative (now Senator) Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, who, like my son, is also in a wheelchair. She lost both of her legs in Iraq while serving as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. Born in Thailand, she was the first Thai-American woman and the first disabled woman to be elected to Congress. She’s liberal. She was born elsewhere. She’s American. She loves our country. She’s a patriot. She’s a wonderful part of American history. Daines seemed to respect her despite their political differences.

At one point, my son asked Daines about an issue Daines and I have disagreed on. Daines looked at me, looked at my son, smiled, and said, “Cory, there are things your father and I don’t see eye-to-eye on, and that’s okay. But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about you and muscular dystrophy.”

It was a good answer. Daines earned my admiration and respect that day. 

Monday, he lost my admiration and respect when he defended and joined Donald Trump’s insulting, race-based, xenophobic and divisive attacks on members of Congress, and his dangerous McCarthy-like judgements of who is and who isn’t “American.” The day before, Trump accused four progressive congresswomen of color of “hating America,” and suggested they “go back” to the “crime infested” countries they “originally came from” – even though all four are citizens of the United States, three were born in the United States, and all were elected by fellow U.S. citizens to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In response, Daines tweeted: “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals. This is America. We’re the greatest country in the world. I stand with @realdonaldtrump.”

I love the United States. I love the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality for all. Even if we haven’t always lived up to those ideals, our founders left us a Constitution that not only outlines those ideals but established legal and civil ways to fight for and achieve those ideals. To challenge things. To criticize things. To try and change things. Central to that is the freedom to speak against the things we don’t like.

That’s why I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, volunteered to serve in a Force Recon unit, and took an oath to defend our nation and Constitution. That’s why after leaving active duty I served in the Marine Corps Reserves and then the Montana Army National Guard. I served with a diversity of people, from all walks of life, from a variety of backgrounds, from throughout the nation. Different colors; different religious views; different political views – a snapshot of Americans serving America. We often had debates and disagreements, occasionally heated ones, but we would have all sacrificed our lives for each other and our country. In fact, some of my friends did just that.

Last May, I attended a reunion of my fellow Force Recon Marines at topsail Beach, North Carolina, near Marine Corps base Camp LeJeune. I hadn’t seen most of them for more than 30 years. We remain different; maybe more so as we’ve aged. I don’t agree with the political views of most of them. But I love them like brothers. We’re all Americans. We all love our country. We’ve proven that. We take seriously the Voltairean notion (as expressed by Evelyn Beatrice Hall), “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

E pluribus unum.  United we stand. 

I find it increasingly and disturbingly disconcerting that so many Americans, and leaders such as Trump and Daines, don’t seem to understand the important distinction between patriotism and nationalism. They’ve hijacked and distorted the word ‘patriotism.’ They don’t seem to fully understand the First Amendment of the Constitution. They apparently believe that anyone who doesn’t share their thoughts, values and believes, and conform to their standards and notions of ‘patriotism,’ must hate America.

Ironically, their attitude is as anti-American as it gets.