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By Betty Vanderwielen

Graetzes Speak on Crown of Continent

Pure Montana Tales


Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Rick Graetz stands in front of a map of the Crown of the Continent. The Crown territory encompasses the southern edge of two Canadian provinces – British Columbia and Alberta – and the northwestern portion of Montana. Included within it are the Swan, Seeley and Blackfoot valleys.

SEELEY LAKE – The topic of the Sept. 8 Pure Montana Tales held at SLE Outside was the Crown of the Continent (CC). The featured speakers were Rick and Susie Graetz. Their credentials include more than 30 books, the most recent entitled "Rocky Mountain Front." In addition, Susie is Managing Editor of The University of Montana (UM) Press and Managing Editor of the university's e-magazine "Crown of the Continent and the Greater Yellowstone." Rick teaches four Crown of the Continent courses each year at the UM.

Introducing the Graetzes, Clearwater Resource Council Outreach Coordinator Jenny Rohrer said, "Rick and Susie together have explored and photographed almost every corner of the Crown of the Continent."

Rick told the audience most of them were living within the Crown territory. He delineated the CC as extending from the headwaters of the Elk and Highwood Rivers in British Columbia and Alberta and stretching down to Montana's Blackfoot River Valley at the south end. The western edge of the CC encompasses the Swan Valley and the Mission Mountains.

Graetz spoke of nature systems within the CC, a term he prefers to ecosystems. In his definition of nature systems he includes landscape, vegetation, animal life and connectivity. He emphasized the importance of continuous connection across the system, saying "when connectivity for wildlife ends, there the nature system ends."

According to Graetz, "No grouping of mountains in any state in the whole Rocky Mountain chain in the United States has as much wild country and wilderness and wildlife diversity as Montana."

Another important concept Graetz said is recognition of the interweaving of geography and history. He said the two have to be taught together. Calling the CC "one grand collection of time and space," he spoke briefly of dinosaurs, indigenous people, white settlers and modern rural communities all having their space and time within the CC. He also talked about the importance of including all interested parties in any conservation effort.

"We emphasize that you can't do conservation without bringing everyone to the table," Graetz said. "We believe any conservation is community based. Everyone has to be heard and then we come up with some kind of compromise that works. People can live within a natural system as long as they live in harmony with it."

Graetz said those concepts are ones he teaches in his classes. His CC courses include a field trip component where he takes the students into the Crown territory to allow them to experience what he is teaching them.

"In my opinion," Rick said, "Glacier Park and Crown of the Continent – in terms of biological diversity, what a natural system is about, climate change issues, urban wildland interface issues – is a living breathing textbook without a single page missing. This is what we try to do with our students."

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Susie Graetz speaks with one of the Pure Montana Tales attendees after the presentation.

Graetz's students also work on specific projects as part of their field work. One such project in Lincoln, Mont. resulted in a listing of 25 natural and historical assets in the area. Graetz said because the economy is changing, which often leaves small towns struggling, they wanted to help communities understand what their area has of value, particularly in terms of tourism. He said he wants to do a similar project for the Seeley Swan communities next.

The Graetzes also guide graduate students working on thesis projects to choose a topic which is interesting to them but also relevant to the public and written in what Rick calls public-speak, in contrast to academic language. The goal is to then make those theses readily available, rather than confining them to academic journals. Rick said that component was Susie's particular area of expertise. A number of articles, photographs and research are already freely available on the UM "This Is Montana" website,


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