Jim Posewitz – A Hero for Montana

Jim Posewitz, conservationist, author, ethicist, etc.

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.”

6 thoughts on “Jim Posewitz – A Hero for Montana

  1. I had the privilege to meet and photograph Jim for a story in the Bog Sky Journal. What I thought would be an hour photo shoot Turned into a whole day of driving around the Missouri, seeing the bridges that were built over it to maintain the stream flow, listening to all of his life story and finally ending up at the bar on Craig. While we were drinking a beer a fisherman approached him and Thames him for preserving the river that he loves to fish. Jim was an advocate for all of us who love the outdoors. We are all so fortunate he was born and fought for what he believed in.

    • Melanie, thanks for sharing your memories of Jim. I wonder how many other people have similar memories of encounters with him.

  2. I was recently talking to my husband’s grandson, who is studying Fish and Wildlife Management in Michigan, and (not surprisingly), he knew of Poz’s work and the tremendous legacy he left.
    I worked for his wife Gayle Joslin on a mountain goat study on the Rocky Mountain Front in the spring and summer of 1984. It was the best job I ever had, and one of the great benefits of working for her is that I knew Poz personally and spent a lot of time with them both during that terrific field summer. I am in the process of sending our grandson a signed copy of Beyond Fair Chase, with fervent hope that a new generation of conservationists will carry the torch far into the future.
    Poz was a consummate gentleman with a soft, encouraging manner and the most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen on a person. He leaves a legacy that is unequaled. While we often give the conservation giants (Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, John Muir) their due credit for preserving wild space and the wildlife that depend on them, Poz’s name certainly belongs among them. He is greatly missed, and I consider myself so fortunate for having known him. Thank you for this great article.
    Barbara Buls Boudreau–Gloucester, MA

    • Barbara, thanks so much for your comments.You’re absolutely correct. Poz does rank among the giants of conservation. I envy the personal experiences you were able to have with Poz. And thanks for passing along Beyond Fair Chase to your grandson.

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