“Private land, in the West, is crucial to the long-term outcome of ecosystems. All the elk and the deer that need forage will depend on private lands to survive in the winter.”
-Montana rancher Dusty Crary
When I started watching a new Discovery Channel conservation documentary, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman – it debuts on Thursday on the network at 9 p.m. – I kept waiting for one of those hammer-it- home moments where someone gets condemned, trolled or slapped silly verbally. But it never happened.
I won’t spoil too much of the content of this production, co-directed by accomplished filmmakers Susan Froemke and John Hoffman (and based on the book of the same name by Miriam Horn). But as the 90-minute documentary – narrated by the familiar voice of newsman, angler and conservationist Tom Brokaw – chronicles three very different places with three very different issues, you get a sense that hard-working Americans in the rugged Rockies, the nation’s heartland and the Deep South can do their part to resolve issues and actually see compromise from politicians and governing organizations.
As the title suggests, Montana ranchers, Kansas farmers and Louisiana commercial fishermen all have their ability to make a living and/or protect the natural environment around them put in jeopardy by various forces and obstacles.
Take the small group of ranch owners around western Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, some of the West’s most rugged, gorgeous and strategic land. It’s also coveted for its rich oil and gas desposits, and the film cites the 43 Bureau of Land Management drilling leases that were issued during the gas shortage crisis in the early 1980s on private land just to the east and south of the protected Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park.
All of that represents private land, meaning more of it is susceptible to more drilling and development.
A small but stubborn, persistent and undaunted – and I use those terms in the best possible way – coalition was formed to helped protect remaining private land in the area. It became a fight that persisted for years upon years – even through a family tragedy that struck one of the leaders of the group, multi-generation rancher Dusty Crary.
“Our biggest motivation right from the get-go was, we just want to leave it like it is,” backcountry guide Gene Sentz says.
It seems like a fair request, protecting some of the nation’s most pristine areas. But in our current political climate, with President Donald Trump proposing significant cuts within the Department of the Interior while pushing for more drilling on public land – such as his Bristol Bay Pebble Mine reversing decisions on in Alaska and what’s being deemed as the President’s “war on the Environmental Protecting Agency,” it’s understandable that such fights seem almost futile. if only we had more folks like Dusty Crary fighting for us.
At one point, the ranchers talk about working together with an organization known as the Nature Conservancy, which rancher Stoney Burk says “was considered an extreme enviromental group, and there was a lot of my neighbors who thought they were the devil.”
Imagine mustachioed, cowboy hat-clad Montana ranchers and a staunch conservation group working together for a common goal? But catch a glimpse of the beauty of some of these lands – and I doubt watching even on the largest flat screen in your living room does it justice – and you understand why these groups could find common ground and a cause to unite each other with. How you could not want to prevent this country from oil drilling and subdivisions.
“I want that to look like this 100 years from now,” Crary says, his young son Carson by his side, overlooking a spectacular scene of lush green fields flanked by towering mountain peaks. “You know, our grand dads and great grand dads, they came here in pre-1900 and homesteaded and scratched it out. There’s a lot of honor in and a feeling of pride and responsibility to honor all the hardships they went through to build a ranch.”
Whatever your political beliefs are, who you vote for and how willing you are to compromise, you should watch this documentary. It might not sway you from the far right or the far left, but I defy you to not come away with the feeling that compromise is so critical in our society. You might not even agree with everything these folks are buying, and in the Louisiana fishing segment I could be found shaking my head more than once but understanding the arguments being made by – and I know this is not a chic statement to make these days – both sides.
Of course, in 2017 (and possibly continuing into at least 2020), compromise is not even on the table right now in a time of toxic and venomous sludge releasing from Washington that’s making – whether all of us won’t admit or not – everyone miserable and not having a feeling of anything great coming our way anytime soon.
So here’s to an hour-an-and-a-half of reasonable sanity that Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman pulls off to make you forget about what a turbulent and damn depressing time it is in our country.