Access into the Wild: Kelsey Mortensen and Nico Matallana

Halfmoon Pass. Big Snowy Mountains.  The sign said one mile, but it was definitely more than that.  Thinking like I’d never make it, I was surprised to reach the pass in the end.  Amazed, our group looked down upon a basin lined with snow-capped rocky peaks, but more impressively, the golden prairie shown at the end of the drainage.  Only a day and a half ago, we’d been on the other side of the island mountain range speaking with a local snowmobile enthusiast in Lewistown, Montana.  This leader in the snowmobile community expressed his deep love for these mountains and the joys of accessing them with his machine.  In the next few days we explored what it means to recreate in an access controversial area.

Photo by Ben Johnson

For a 24 hour period, each member of our small group set off on foot to spend a night alone.  Completely self-reliant, Continue reading

Connection to the Land: Ian Ford and Emily Askey

Our group drives through the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Many people here do not have jobs and are lacking money, yet they still choose to live on the reservation. This land is important to them. It is where their ancestors lived and it is a place that they are well-acquainted with. Modern Native American cultures (such as the Crow and Northern Cheyenne) clearly have a strong sense of place because despite much-needed job opportunities off of the reservations, many of them choose to stay with their friends and families. Continue reading

Chelsea Johnson: Permanence on the Prairie

In downtown White Sulphur Springs, most storefronts are empty. The short buildings hunch over their dusty windows, making themselves as small as possible as if apologizing for their sorry state. Weeds grow alongside the streets and at buildings’ edges. In the closed taxidermist shop, frozen raccoon and deer stare out with blank eyes at the cracked and crumbling sidewalk.

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At one end of the block is an abandoned western wear store, once located in the lower story of a red stone building. Continue reading

Becca Sinichko: An Analysis of the ICP (Insane Cow Posse)

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It all started as a joke while floating down the Missouri.  Rendered speechless by the white sandstone cliffs that humbled the river, a cry of bewilderment broke the silence.  “Cows!”  Sure enough among all the cottonwoods and tucked between the breaks were herds of cattle.  Mark, the BLM ranger we talked to before beginning our trip had warned us that ranchers had let their cattle back to the waters edge, now that tourist season was over.  I guess they no longer had to pretend this landscape was pristine.  I still never expected to see them every quarter mile.  They must not have expected to see us either.  Occasionally they got worked up at our appearance, making ungodly noises until we were out of sight.  We joked that we had set the “cow alarm” off.  It may just have been a provoked response to my constant whistling, Nico’s singing, or the fact that Ben furiously played his harmonica at them.  Nonetheless the humor continued, narrating the life of the “Wild Cow” in an Australian accent and shouting Juggalo every time we saw a cow with a jet-black body and stark white face.  To be honest I spotted cattle and joked about the ICP more than any other animal along those banks.

In fact, I have seen more cows than any other mammal since WRFI began.  Cattle are the livelihood of this area.  They dominate the landscape, a symbol of the West… But they aren’t even from here!  Did you know they can’t be found in a single field guide of this area?  I tried. If they weren’t so bloody well known we would have no way to identify them.  Maybe their ability to stick out like a sore thumb here is why they’re so easy to make fun of in comparison to the other wildlife.  But are we naïve in our ability to joke about them so carelessly?  Some people say their presence fills the void left here by bison, but they leave behind a different footprint.  Grazing down the land, damaging riparian areas, compressing the soil and fragmenting the land as ranchers fence off field after field.  This is not a native relationship.  But they can’t be blamed.  Even I feel sorry for them, knowing they spend their last six months trapped in a feedlot in Nebraska.

The system is sick.  Invading the land as homesteaders, introducing foreign species and then ripping them away when it is no longer ideal.  Like the ICP the impacts we have overwhelmed this area with in the past 200 years are invasive.  We can’t keep treating the land and the animals here as a joke.  We need to adapt.