by John Baden

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.  Its attraction 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 social benefit programs.  For many people these payments exceed salaries and wages, dividends, and returns on investments. These towns have lite (light) versions of unfortunate features of Indian reservations.  These towns are polar opposites of greater Bozeman. 

Why the differences?  Some reasons are obvious.  
All these towns were dependent on resource extraction, mainly logging and mining. Both industries are declining and for multiple reasons.  Further, they 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 fledging organization in the late 1960s and he enticed me to support its mission.  The USFS and Anaconda Forest Products, Inc. had conspired for years to road and log the Lincoln Back Country, 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 battle fought crony capitalism.  I found it attractive for melding ecology, liberty, and prosperity.  

Subsidized environmental disturbances includes below cost timber sales, mandating 40% of America's corn go to fuel ethanol, draining our prairie pothole "duck factories", and enacting and renewing the sugar import quota that harms the Everglades and other wetlands.  These all benefit a few interests while dispersing costs among all.  I find such policies especially noxious in a prosperous nation--but they are the inevitable consequences of management by political calculation.  

In the Lincoln Backcountry case we ultimately won against the power of crony capitalism and the bureaucratic pathologies then dominating the U. S. Forest Service. While these forces vary in strength, they are always present.  It is irresponsible to wish them away.  

Given this reality, the constant key conservation question is how to best conserve America's "romance lands".  These are parks, designated Wilderness and other wildlands, range, water, 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.  Wealth can buffer some people from many of them, private security and gated communities for example.  However, an increasing number of people ask: 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, and transportation.
    It's located in Switzerland.
    That's Bozeman today.

*f. n.  MSU professor Jerry Johnson has observed: "Quality land/natural amenities are necessary but not sufficient. At some point urban amenities and good air transport add value to intact public lands and ruralness."  That conjunction helps MSU prosper.  Several years ago when I was on the Advisory Council of MSU's president Jerry and I proposed that the University motto become "The University of the Yellowstone".  President Geoff Gamble obtained a copy right on the phrase.

Editor's Note: John Baden found Bozeman in the late 1960s when looking for the best place to build his life.   He explored and ranked every town in the Northwest having a four year college or university.  Bozeman ranked first and he left Bloomington, Indiana in 1970 to accept an offer from MSU. He earned a Ph. D. in economic anthropology from Indiana University and was a NSF post doc in environmental policy.   He founded the Foundation for Research in Economics and the Environment (FREE) in 1985 which he and his wife Dr. Ramona Marotz-Baden lead.  FREE's mission is to harmonize three oft conflicting values; environmental quality, responsible liberty, and modest prosperity.  John and Ramona live on an irrigated Gallatin Gateway ranch, all but thirty acres of which they placed in a conservation easement.