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The Mission Mountains and Flathead River in northwestern MontanaWhat do people see when they look at a scene like this?  Wilderness?  Those mountains are Montana’s Mission Mountains, are are indeed a protected wilderness area.  But the word “wilderness” can be a scary word to some people living in major metropolitan areas, along the lines of “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”  Well, there aren’t tigers up there, but lions and bears – you bet. 

Sportsmen might see prime areas for hunting and fishing; after all, Montana has famed blue-ribbon trout streams and really big game.  Tourism is a very big part of Montana’s economy.  Yet people living in nearby towns might see a lack of jobs and a close-to-defunct economy, one that sees fewer and fewer people able to make it on one job alone.  They may resent the wealth of the tourists and hunters, and of newcomers to the state, while they struggle with what the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana calls “The Montana Discount” – substantially lower wages. 

Enviromentalists might see something pristine to be protected forever … whether or not they are aware of any mines in the area, or over-fishing, or real estate development without stream setbacks, or plans to drill for oil or gas somewhere within reach …. You get the idea.  All that you see in this photo is withing the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; do we hear their voices?

I wrote about this topic of communicating about land-use and natural resource issues in the American West for my final paper at Syracuse University.  It’s a topic I’m passionate about when it comes to public relations.  There is absolutely no one solution to these varied and complex problems; they cannot be reduced to sound bites.  I’ll be writing about them here from time to time, outlining some suggested steps and ideas for improvement.

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