Meeting offers conservation groups a moment to shine

2014-03-18T16:08:00Z 2014-03-18T23:52:08Z Meeting offers conservation groups a moment to shineBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Ten conservation-minded Billings organizations spent the lunch hour Tuesday telling the City Council what they’ve been up to in recent months.

During a luncheon held at the Billings Public Library, the Billings Conservation Roundtable offered each group five minutes to tell their stories to Mayor Tom Hanel and the six council members present. About 40 other people attended.

Among the presentations, which also included brief talks by the Billings League of Women Voters and Our Montana:

Kristi Drake of BikeNet noted that her group has contributed $250,000 in trail projects since 2004 in a town that now has 37 miles of trails and 18 miles of bike lanes – “but we still have a long way to go to get kids to school safely and with confidence,” she said.

Joshua Jackson, manager at the Good Earth Market, said the cooperative’s board of directors is devising a plan to pay customers to walk or bike to the store, at 3024 Second Ave. N. Every time the customer chooses a non-motorized conveyance, the store will punch a card; after 10 or 12 punches, the shopper will receive a $5 discount.

“We do what we can to help people make healthy choices,” Jackson said.

Darcie Howard, director of the Montana Audubon Conservation Education Center, said the center was host to 11,000 visitors over the last five years, 90 percent of them children 12 and under.

“We need to develop citizens who can make solid conservation decisions,” she said.

Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund has nearly 3,300 members and associate members in Yellowstone County, reported Cara Chamberlain, co-chair of the organization’s board of directors.

“People don’t realize they can make a difference participating in their local government,” she said. “We encourage members of the conservation community to serve on city boards and we advocate for greater democratic participation.”

Cal Cumin, president of the Montana Wilderness Association’s Eastern Wildlands chapter, said “the sad thing about wilderness is that you can’t go back once it’s gone.” This year the group is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which protects 9.1 million acres of federal land.

Michael Fried of Plains Justice said residents look on the 700 undammed miles of the Yellowstone River in at least two ways: “as a place where we take our dogs to walk, or a place where our land and water rights end.”

JW Westman of Public Lands and Water Access Association said he’s boiled his talk down to six words: “‘Values unite us, issues divide us.’ It’s a corny saying I have been using for a number of years, but it seems to work.”

The Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council’s Ed Gulick noted that School District 2 has evaluated its energy use through the Energy Star program. He encouraged the city to do the same with its facilities. “The city has been doing some really great things, and this is your opportunity to demonstrate that,” he told the city council.

Hanel told him that the city has taken some of those steps “that probably many citizens are not aware of,” including high-efficiency lighting and window replacements.

Echoing comments made by her colleagues, council member Jani McCall said she appreciated hearing from all 10 groups at once.

“Individually you are impressive, but when the whole group is together, it really is quite dramatic,” McCall said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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