Dawson Resource Council making a difference

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Guest Opinion

In 1972, a group of Montana ranch families learned that their property and their livelihoods were at risk. The federal government, twentyone major utility companies, and cities on the coasts had all gotten together to find a major source of energy for the rest of the country.

These government agencies and companies deemed America’s Northern Plains (including central and eastern Montana) a “national sacrifice area,” and laid out plans to deplete the water our ranches rely on and condemn the surface use of our land for coal strip mining and synfuels production. Their plan involved diverting 2.6 million acre-feet of water annually from rivers in this region, including the Yellowstone, Big Horn, Tongue, and Powder Rivers – water that we all rely on.

You don’t have to be a cattle rancher to understand how these plans made people feel. But in the face of this pressure, an extraordinary thing happened.

Ranch families began talking to one another. They held meetings in living rooms and called each other on party-line phones to find out what the companies making plans for our area wouldn’t tell us. They helped each other learn how to negotiate with land men.

Ultimately, these families founded Northern Plains Resource Council. They became our organization’s very first members.

Since then, Northern Plains and Dawson Resource Council (the Glendive affiliate of Northern Plains) have worked hard to protect the rights of people in the face of big corporations and government decisions that affect them.

In the early 90s, Dawson Resource Council led the effort to protect Makoshika State Park, and helped double the park in size. During the farm credit crisis in the 1980s, DRC and Northern Plains rewrote foreclosure laws to protect the rights of farmers and ranchers facing the loss of their land to the bank, ensuring them more than what existing laws guaranteed them.

In 2005, we passed Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) for beef at the state and then federal level. As producers, many of us know that COOL coincided with all-time highs for beef prices, and helped our ranchers earn a better living. Sadly, COOL was rescinded, thanks to the efforts of foreign governments, powerful meatpackers, and our own Congress—but we’re working hard to bring it back.

We’ve also been working to bring more recycling options to Glendive. You might have seen news of the monthly cardboard drives we’ve hosted; those drives have diverted an estimated 8 tons of cardboard from the city landfill. A committed coalition of Glendive businesses and organizations has come together around this work.

This is what we’ve done, and this is who we are. We are Dawson Resource Council. Our members live in Glendive, Lindsay, Terry, Wibaux, Richey and Fallon. We come together bimonthly for membership meetings, where we make decisions as a team. Every member has a vote and a voice in our discussions.

We believe in the resilience and vibrancy of eastern Montana. We are proud of our farmers and ranchers, and we work hard to ensure that they can remain on the land. At the end of the day, we believe in good stewardship of our water and land, and in using natural resources responsibly.

We also believe that people should have a say in decisions that affect them — and that people can still make a difference in this country. Our people are doing just that.

If you have questions or would like to get involved, please reach out! Contact one of our local members, or find us online at northernplains.org/our-local-groups/ dawson-resource-council/.

This guest column was signed by Rachel Torres, DRC chair; Irene Moffett, DRC treasurer; Bruce Peterson, board representative and seven other Dawson Resource Council members.