By Eleanor Guerin
I first worked in Glacier National Park during the summer of 1985, while still in college and studying biology. I knew I wanted to work in the wild. Coming from the flat land of Louisiana, I had only traveled east of the Mississippi and the only mountains I knew were the Ouchitas and the Appalachians. So Montana was at first overwhelming. I had never seen mountains loom so large; they felt oppressive. But I soon grew to love the park and the West in general – so much so that after one more stint working in environmental education in New Hampshire, I never went East again. I returned to Glacier as a ranger and naturalist the next year.
Visitors from all over the world come to Glacier. As a National Park Service park ranger/naturalist, I was fortunate to meet and talk with countless people from across Europe and Asia, the Middle East, Australia — really every continent. Many Europeans visit Glacier to see what is known as the “American Alps.” Folks come either for a quick drive on the not-to-be-missed road through the park or to spend days hiking the backcountry. And Glacier truly is a backcountry park. Roads take one only so far; while there is much to behold along the hairpin turns and thousand-foot drops of the main road, it’s the trails that lead to unimagined wildness. In the backcountry of this park, I sensed both my smallness in, and oneness with, the land. I yielded to the wind, sun and snow, to lightning and thunderstorms. I felt redeemed by the waters and life and purity of it all.
Two intertwined features of Glacier will always stay with me: wildlife and water. And they both are threatened by what’s happening near the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the state of Montana: fracking. I have tracked fracking issues around the country from Pennsylvania to my home state of Louisiana, to the west in Wyoming, Montana and in California where I’ve made my home for 27 years. For some living in poverty, as on the Blackfeet Reservation bordering the eastern edge of Glacier, allowing drilling and fracking may provide temporary economic relief. But it has the terrible potential to be a double-edged sword. Some argue there’s no harm. Others fight with all their heart to protect the land. With secret chemical concoctions injected deep into the earth, I gladly err on the side of protection.
Montana may not be a highly populated state, but it contains an unrivaled natural treasure worthy of government oversight and protection. BLM lands are federal lands, intended to benefit ALL the people. The potential for fracking to contaminate both ground and surface water that sustains the people of Montana through agriculture and drinking supplies, as well its wildlife, cannot be ignored. Once damaged, there’s no turning back.
I return to Montana and Glacier every couple of years. The park is an old friend; the land has held my heart ever since my first foray there. But I have watched the glaciers, for which the park is named, recede during a few short decades. I know species like the pika become more threatened by warming temperatures. And now, the very water that sustains both humans and animals could become the next casualty of economic development. We must be vigilant.
Eleanor Guerin is a guest blogger to Food & Water Watch. Since leaving Glacier in 1987, Eleanor has made her home in Sonoma County, California, where she makes her living as a massage therapist, health advocate and Certified Senior Advisor. She gathers data for the California Phenology Project at Pepperwood Preserve and volunteers in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.”