Unearthing Paradise: Montana Writers in Defense of Greater Yellowstone is an effort to raise awareness and activism regarding the need to protect wild lands of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem from extractive and destructive threats. Profits will be used to assist environmental organizations in their efforts to protect these lands. The project grew out of local efforts in Park County to stop two gold mining proposals at the northern gateway to Yellowstone, and includes poetry, essay and fiction by 32 Montana writers including Rick Bass, Tami Haaland, Doug Peacock and the late Jim Harrison. The book’s editors are Marc Beaudin, Seabring Davis and Max Hjortsberg. Terry Tempest Williams provides the foreword.
Editor’s Introduction by Max Hjortsberg:
An unambiguous doom hit me like a rock through a window when I first learned that Lucky Minerals, a multinational mining interest, had just staked claims across 2,500 acres of public land up Emigrant Gulch, followed soon thereafter by Crevice Mining Group eyeing a similar operation on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park.
I had just returned from Nevada having spent two weeks in the Cortez Range working on an environmental impact statement for the proposed expansion of the Cortez Hills gold mine. As part of my introductory safety training I toured the entire operation. I stood on the overlook of the enormous hole in the ground watching haul trucks the size of my house slowly crawl toward the surface with 350-ton payloads destined for the mill to be crushed and leached with cyanide, so that maybe 15 ounces of gold might be extracted—about a handful.
In other words, I knew exactly what kind of avaricious, teeth clacking, tail dragging beast was coming for us because I had just been deep down in its belly. Here was the leviathan in my backyard, and yes that matters, don’t let the cynics tell you otherwise. We can and must fight for issues that challenge our nation and affect our world, but at the heart of every environmental fight is someone’s home, a place worth fighting for, your locale and, more often than not, on our public lands. Whether it’s gold, oil or coal, what all of this boils down to is the need for the paradigm to change. In the face of climate change in the 21st century we cannot continue to fall back on business as usual, and that’s what makes this and every local, backyard fight a global endeavor.
Gold is nothing more than a commodity and we have plenty of it. The great immutable metal is infinitely recyclable and should be reused and not hidden away in some vault in the Swiss Alps. We don’t need to tear into the Greater Yellowstone to get our hands on more gold. Because Paradise Valley and Yellowstone National Park can rightfully be seen as the world’s backyard, and not just my own, certainly helps in the PR department, but doesn’t mean that your backyard, or anywhere else for that matter is more suitable for such a sacrifice.
As a poet my instinct was to reach for a pen. I wasn’t alone. Marc Beaudin and Seabring Davis joined me as co-editors and authors in this venture, fearlessly believing as I do in the power of the written word. We wanted a chorus giving voice to the mountains and rivers. That is how Unearthing Paradise: Montana Writers in Defense of the Greater Yellowstone was conceived—a living document assembled to illustrate the astounding beauty and immeasurable wealth of the Yellowstone River and the surrounding landscape and its occupants, both wild and domestic. We reached out to the amazingly diverse community of writers who reside in, or have called the northern Yellowstone region home, and offer the utmost gratitude to the many authors who contributed and to everyone who has supported us along the way.
The scope of the fight has evolved since the first public meetings in 2015. On November 21, 2016, at the urging of the local community and elected officials, the U.S. Forest Service announced a mineral withdrawal on public lands, initiating a two-year segregation, or pause, on mineral exploration and mining activity on approximately 30,000 acres located around the two mining districts in Park County. The segregation allows for a thorough environmental assessment and public input to support administrative withdrawal, which would prohibit new mining on our public lands for up to 20 years. Only an act of congress can protect these areas from mining for the long term.
The mission of Unearthing Paradise is to advocate for, and support, effective protections from industrial-scale mining in the gateway to Yellowstone. The withdrawal process will only be successful if there is resounding support from Emigrant to D.C. This written testimony demonstrates that many diverse voices stand united in protecting the ecosystem and our home, and we urge all our elected officials to support this efort, if they haven’t already.
We will donate a portion of the proceeds generated from book sales to Park County Environmental Council (PCEC), one of the local grassroots organizations at the forefront of the fight. Ultimately we hope Unearthing Paradise will be an inspiration to not only our community, but to others out there campaigning to protect their home, safeguard their water, defend their dignity, and who are fighting for their voices to be heard.
And your voice? Join us in this fight, write a letter, make a call, talk to your neighbor and let your elected officials know you support the withdrawal process and oppose industrial scale mining in the Greater Yellowstone. Also consider supporting the organizations leading the fight. To that end, you can find additional information at the back of this book.
Now dig into the gold we’ve unearthed.