Pondering Pulling Together

When our team of Percheron mares pulls together in the traces, it is a thing of beauty.

The hay wagon rolls along smoothly, the horses jog up the slopes and ease down the hills. If we are loading small square bales, the horses stand quietly while my husband, Steve, and I stack the bales. If we are feeding the calves, the horses hold the wagon just on the precipice of a hill so we can roll a massive round bale out into a long line of bovine breakfast.

Merry is harder to catch, but once she has that halter on she patiently accepts direction. Melody is a lover most of the time, but sometimes she hangs back, allowing Merry to pull alone. Or, once in a while Melody jumps at the start, jerking the wagon, driver and Merry off the ground. Melody is strong enough to pull that wagon apart if she ever decided to do it and chaos would reign.

We don’t have to look very far to the east to see chaos reigning over Montana’s black gold rush, but if central Montana can learn to pull together in the traces, everyone might see black as beautiful.

Learning to pull together will take some self-evaluation, introspection and a history lesson, along with possibly mimicking other states.

Agriculture provides some history lessons from previous chaotic rushes.

Pioneers believed Rain Follows the Plow. They naively moved from the comparative rain forests east of the Mississippi River to the drier prairies. They truly believed the climate would change to meet their farming needs. They were rewarded with the Dust Bowl. Instead of continuing to butt heads with Mother Nature, farmers finally decided to pull together and they learned how to protect their soil and they get better at it every day.

Prior to 1980’s, the timber industry acted more like Melody than Merry. They jerked forward with clear-cuts and ran off from bare soil that eroded into streams. The political climate drove them to start pulling together and today, loggers work with other political entities to carefully protect soil and streams.

The cattle industry has used Melody as a poster child sometimes, too, but ranchers have learned to pull together in the traces with low-stress handling techniques, rotation grazing, and a healthy environment for their livestock.

Now, oil companies, surface rights owners and mineral rights owners have their opportunity to pull together in their traces.

If they choose to pull together, our central Montana communities can remain safe, our pristine groundwater and streams can remain healthy and our economy still can boom.

For example, mineral rights owners could ask oil companies to voluntarily test and report surface and groundwater before drilling, during production and afterward, just as they do in Colorado.

Surface owners could be granted the right to approve background checks on oil company employees who enter their property.

Oil companies could contribute to city and county law enforcement and infrastructure, especially during the first 18 months of production while they enjoy a state tax honeymoon anyway.

Pulling together in the black gold traces. It could be a thing of beauty.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise Montana natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad. 

Lisa Schmidt