Remembering last year’s hunt in Montana’s sagebrush country

Hannah Nikonow lives in Missoula, Montana with her husband and two pointing dogs. She works for the Intermountain West Joint Venture’s sagebrush program Partnering to Conserve Sagebrush Rangelands. Learn about their sagebrush habitat conservation endeavors at www.PartnersInTheSage.com

Journal entry from September 21, 2019:

On this Friday evening in September, I’m somewhere in Montana’s sagebrush country, “sleeping” in the back of my car with the bird dog taking up all the room. I’m awaiting dawn and our annual sage grouse hunt. The sun rises and sets in these rangelands are particularly spectacular. A distant peak is already sporting swatches of snow. Its cascading tresses of alpine to forest to shrubland ridges glow a particularly rich gold in the waning light.

We are filthy rich in public lands in this corner of the world. If we wanted to reach a place inaccessible to public landowners in a day, the dog and I would have to walk blisters into our feet. Anticipating the next day’s hunt, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with love and gratitude for this place and the many public lands like it. What brilliance and insanity established such an estate for all Americans? I doubt the earliest champions of public domain lands completely understood what they gave their people. It’s a gift we can celebrate in perpetuity.

That perpetuity is not a given, though. It’s something we must continually work for and conserve. But, for me, this moment and the next few days are not for worrying over the future of our public lands but are for enjoying them in all their rugged beauty and bounty. The surrounding smells of dust, dog, and, of course, artemisia tridentata trigger scenes under my drooping eyelids of sage hens exploding from their perfect camouflage.

Revisiting this journal entry again fills me with pride and thankfulness for our public lands. Especially in these strange times when friends and family must be socially distant and recreation kept local, these places again reveal how crucial they are to our mental and physical health. Although I’m not close enough to sagebrush country to consider it local recreation, I am comforted when I think of my kitchen. My freezer is full of deer, birds, fish, and berries, and my pantry holds dried mushrooms, jam, and bone broth — all courtesy of these wild places. Nearly 100 percent of my family’s protein comes from public lands or publicly accessible lands. With this knowledge, and the promise of more sagebrush rambles in the future, my backyard haunts will tide me over until I can wander further afield.

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So many of our country’s parks and public lands written about in these love notes would not exist but for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Congress is poised to permanently fund it as part of the Great American Outdoors Act. Follow the movement along at #FundLWCF. Learn more here. Better yet, take action here.

Would you like to write about public lands that you cherish? Please email Mary Jo Brooks at brooksm@nwf.org for guidelines.

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National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

The National Wildlife Federation public lands program advocates for our public lands and waters, wildlife and the right of every American to enjoy them.