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By Betty Vanderwielen
Pathfinder 

Swan Valley Connections and Community Provide Mutual Support

 

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Moonshine Mountain entertained the crowd with Americana, folk and country songs, most of which they wrote themselves. Some folks got up and danced to the music while others just enjoyed listening and watching.

SWAN VALLEY – The Swan Valley Shintangle took place Saturday, Aug. 20 at the 33 Bar Ranch in Condon. The event was a fundraiser for Swan Valley Connections (SVC). The theme for the evening was Supporting SVC is Supporting Your Community.

Guests were treated to a meal by Vista Linda Catering and music provided by Moonshine Mountain Band of Columbia Falls, Mont. In between the food, music, dancing and raffle drawings, SVC Executive Director Maria Mantas elaborated on the theme.

Mantas said SVC employs local businesses and contractors through its Forest Stewardship and Wetlands Restoration Programs. It also offers expertise and information on such things as how to deal with beetle infestation and how to keep bears out of gardens and livestock. In addition, SVC provides other direct services that end in money savings for people of the community.

Education Program Coordinator Rebekah Rafferty spoke on the educational value SVC provides to the community. Rafferty mentioned the K-12 programs for area students and evening programs for adults but focused mainly on the academic credit courses offered for college students. The month long nine-credit Wildlife in the West course and the two month 16-credit Landscape and Livelihood course draw students from all over the country. Rafferty said their interaction with the Swan Valley community plays a major part in their understanding of how conservation issues impact not only wildlife and wildlands but also human communities.

For their featured speaker, SVC invited former Wildlife in the West student Sofia Fall to read the essay she wrote at the culmination of that class. Though she is currently studying at University of Michigan, Fall and her sister drove to Montana to give the reading at the Shintangle. Fall's essay dealt with the understanding she had of wilderness prior to taking the course and her understanding afterward.

Fall wrote, "...before I came here I thought there were obvious ways to manage nature and the creatures in it. I thought the largest obstacles existed in the lack of public information, funding, and failed implementation... I thought that natural things had more of a right to use the land than humans did. I thought that we should be trying to free the ecosystems, to reset them back to where they used to be before we ever wandered into them."

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Sofia Fall took the Wildlife in the West course in the summer. The Swan Valley Connections instructors were so impressed with the paper she wrote for her final essay that they asked her to read it at the Shintangle.

Fall went on to tell of the portion of the Wildlife in the West program which entailed interaction and week-end home-stays with people of the Swan Valley community. The students talked with people who were both thrilled to see bears wander across their property and anxious about their family's safety, people who championed wolf re-introduction and those who feared depredations to their cattle herd.

Fall expressed her changed perception, "I understand better now what it is to be human among wild things.... I have met so many people here and it is their voices I keep replaying in my mind. What I will most take away is the importance of the community, how much the people here influence and matter to their ecosystem."

Fall concluded, "When I think about place and wildlife, I will also think about community. ... I feel confused about wildlife management but I'm excited at this confusion. The issues I see are more complicated but their answers have more possibility."

Rafferty said the ultimate goal of the college-credit courses offered by SVC is to have the students return to their own communities and re-create there the impact they experienced in Montana.

 

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