Writer urges folks to ‘organize and fight’
AVON ” To look at Annick Smith you wouldn’t think she’s a fighter.
She’s white-haired, middle-aged and unimposing. But making that assumption would be a mistake, though she doesn’t advocate militancy.
Smith is an author and film producer who helped forge an unlikely grassroots environmental coalition to stop logging and mining near where she lives in Montana’s Blackfoot River. She co-produced Robert Redford’s rendition of “A River Runs Through It.”
“Organize for what you believe in and fight,” she said.
The coalition to preserve the Blackfoot Valley drew together groups that rarely see eye to eye philosophically, such as conservationists, ranchers, guides and outfitters, hunters and fishermen. Among other things, the alliance pushed through legislation that outlawed toxic gold mining practices.
Smith recounted her preservation story as the first speaker in the High Country Speaker’s Series sponsored by the Gore Range Natural Science School and the Eagle Valley Library District. She spoke recently at the Avon Library.
Smith advocated a communal approach to conservation that utilizes storytelling and writing as the best means of spreading the word. In the Blackfoot Valley, where a mining company wanted to mine gold using toxic cyanide-based extraction methods, Smith organized a group of writers who produced a book about water.
From there the issues spread.
“You have to organize at the watershed level,” she said. “I think maybe the wheel is beginning to turn in the West to where people are beginning to see what is happening to the things they care about.”
Another successful conservation effort occurred on the Rocky Mountain Front east of Glacier National Park, where oil and gas companies wanted to drill wells. A coalition of ranchers, conservationist and celebrity landowners like David Letterman managed to enact legislation protecting the area.
“People have to care enough,” she said. “It’s a question of who comes, how much they care and how much you’re willing to fight.”
She isn’t a Westerner. She admits to being a “city girl” from Chicago who moved with her family to Montana in 1973 after falling in love with the mountain West. She’s worried the increasing demand for land and resources will destroy what needs preserving, she said.
During a question and answer session, with audience members, Eagle resident Jerry Fedrizzi reminded the audience they didn’t have far to look for an example of a successful grassroots coalition.
Opponents of the proposed Adam’s Rib ski area prevailed in preventing the Beaver Creek-sized resort from being developed south of Eagle. It took more than three decades of concerted effort, Fedrizzi said, but the coalition succeeded.
“You’ve got to have perseverance,” he said.
Smith advocates more than conservation. She thinks a cultural change is needed if mankind is to remain a good steward of the earth.
“You need to change what people want,” Smith said. “Too many want money or property.”
Smith walks the talk, too. She put has barred future development on her 163 acres in Montana.
Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or email@example.com