Montana lost one of its giants on July 3, when Jim Posewitz died, at age 85.
Posewitz was one of those people who had an illustrious career, then had another illustrious career in his retirement. He put his stamp on the Montana landscape in many ways.
He was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and came to Montana on a football scholarship at Montana State University, and was co-MVP of the 1956 national championship team. After a hitch in the Army, he came back to Montana and earned a Masters degree in fish and wildlife management.
He went to work for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in 1961, starting as a fisheries biologist. In 1969 he was named administrator of FWP’s Ecological Services Administration and from that leadership position he won many victories for Montana’s environment.
In his biologist stint, he gathered data that resulted in the cancellation of proposed Missouri River dams upstream from Fort Peck, saving the river portions downstream from Great Falls. As an administrator he headed an international joint commission on the Flathead River system, and helped prevent an open-pit coal mine from being developed in Canada, which would have threatened the Flathead.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he led efforts to defeat proposals to develop some 44 coal-fired electrical generation plants that threatened to suck up the entire flow of the Yellowstone River. Possibly his greatest achievement was to lead opposition to a proposed dam on the Yellowstone River just upriver from Livingston that would have turned the Paradise Valley into a huge lake. When the political decision was made to route Interstate 15 to intersect with I-90 in Butte, he managed to get the highway department to change plans from straightening the Boulder River in the canyon between Basin and Boulder.
Posewitz retired from FWP in 1993 but continued his career as a spokesman for the environment, and particularly as an advocate for ethical hunting. He was among the founders of Orion – The Hunter’s Institute and was a long-time executive director and a national spokesman for Orion. Beginning with Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting, he wrote five books.
I regret that I never really got to know Jim. I met him, however, at a conference in Livingston sponsored by the Burton K. Wheeler Foundation, celebrating the anniversary of the campaign to save the Yellowstone. During a break I introduced myself to him and I mentioned that as a retired Federal employee I thought it was pretty amazing that as a state employee he was able to do all the lobbying and advocacy that he and his team did.
He smiled at my observation and pointed out that this seemed to be a special time, back when conservation wasn’t a partisan political issue. He was able to work with legislators on both sides of the political aisle to get agreement on what was good for Montana.
Alas, since then, it strikes me, conservative conservationists, as I call them, have seemingly become an endangered species.
A writer friend, David Stalling, of Missoula, a past president of the Montana Wildlife Foundation, was a close friend of Posewitz, and he wrote on Facebook, “He was like a father to me. He was a mentor. He challenged me to think hard and see things from various angles…He was a wonderful friend and a remarkable man. He set a fine example on how to live life.” He adds, “Jim always made me laugh. He always will.”
In this last month, or so, when people have been challenging various monuments, it’s reassuring to look at the life and career of Jim Posewitz. He was widely honored as a hero of conservation, but more important, I’d suggest, are the living monuments to his career, such as the free-flowing Yellowstone River, or the lack of those 40 coal-fired generating plants, considering the many issues with the surviving four dinosaurs at Colstrip. We have the Wild and Scenic Missouri River through the Missouri Breaks, instead of more dams.
Jim’s widow, Gayle, told my friend, “The Happy Warrior is blazing a trail in that Wilderness Beyond.”