In a recent column I noted "People in Bozeman, Montana are remarkably fortunate to have Yellowstone National Park in their back yard." The good fortune in living here is not only because of the spectacular beauty, wildlife, and geological features of Yellowstone and surrounding romantic Western lands. The social and economic ecology of greater Bozeman is a huge contributor. And it will grow.
I just spent a week talking with people in Northwest Montana. I visited Trout Creek, Troy, Thompson Falls and nearby towns. These are beautiful places with very few good employment opportunities. People there are highly dependent on transfer payments. For many people they exceed salaries and wages. These towns have lite (light) versions of the undeserved problems plaguing Indian reservations. These towns are polar opposites of greater Bozeman.
Why the differences? Some reasons are obvious. All were dependent on resource extraction, mainly logging and mining. Both industries are declining and for multiple reasons. Further, these towns lack the services and amenities naturally flowing from proximity to a major research university. The week reinforced my sense of good fortune of living on a ranch a mere ten miles from Bozeman.
I ended the trip by attending the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) meeting at Fairmont Hot Springs and rejoining the organization. Cecil Garland of Lincoln led this organization in the late 1960s and he enticed me to support its mission. The USFS and Anaconda Forest Products, Inc. had conspired for years, then, to road and log the Lincoln backcountry, some 240,000 undisturbed acres.
Their proposals would combine great ecological disturbance with huge economic waste, all subsidized with federal taxes. The Lincoln Back Country preservation fight against crony capitalism conjoined ecology, liberty, and prosperity. Subsidized environmental disturbance has only short-term payoffs, especially in a prosperous nation.
We ultimately won against the power of crony capitalism and bureaucratic pathologies. While these forces vary in strength, they are always present. It is irresponsible to wish them away.
Given this reality, how might we best conserve America's "romance lands": parks, wilderness and other wildlands, range, and wildlife habitat? These lands and waters offer many untaxed (and likely untaxable) benefits that help make our hometown so appealing. This appeal will increase, especially as dis-amenities of other areas become worse.
Reality checks of urban life are not optional. While wealth can buffer some people from many of them, why not just avoid the problems by relocating elsewhere? Many are, and choose Bozeman. Quality attracts quality.
Data shows the environmental benefits of our area are especially attractive to creative individuals with high human capital. These are the people generating Bozeman's boom. They will keep coming. Alas, projections of Gallatin County growth are probably far too low.
Costs and benefits are inherent to such changes. Here as elsewhere not all good things go together. Progress generates better medical care and services--but also problems such as congestion and a decline in civic manners. Now even sober people run red lights.
My week in NW Montana and at the MWA generated new thoughts on Bozeman's growth.
Here is a sketch: Imagine a bucolic American town in post WWII America.
It has today's technology, communication, insulation and transportation.
It's located in Switzerland.
That's Bozeman today.