Crown Champion Profile: Lou Bruno of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance
A meeting on a cold November night in 1984 changed Lou Bruno’s life. The meeting was about a proposed exploratory well in a wild piece of country to the southwest of Lou’s home on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Up until then Lou had absolutely no involvement with environmental issues or politics. He loved the mountains and woods and hiked in them for enjoyment and inspiration, but until that night he wasn’t aware that there was anything I could do to advocate for the protection of those wild places.
Lou grew up in New York City adjacent to a small remnant salt marsh and attached small woodlot. The marsh represented a different world than the one the city represented. “Slowly, it gave up its secrets and I slowly became aware of the richness of life that resided there,” says Lou. “It became my greatest friend. It never failed to inspire me, even on the bleakest of days.”
Like many of us, Lou returned home one day to find the bulldozers lined up at the edge of his favorite place. “I vowed then that I would move to a place where I didn’t have to see the wild places I knew and loved being gobbled up by man’s activities. I thought I had found such a place in Montana. Little did I know that, many years later, I would again be faced with losing a place I came to know and love. This time, however, things would be different. This time I would fight! If I would lose, I could at least say that I gave it my best.”
Montana grew on Lou slowly. “When I first moved to Montana I felt like I was being exiled. The winters were brutal, the mountains starkly bare, and the summer season was too short. Oh, I saw its beauty, but always believed it to be uninhabitable.” Gradually Lou came to love the stark beauty, the diversity, the slow awakening of the land as the season progresses and the transformation from Arctic wasteland to incredible green richness and diversity.
And he discovered the country know as the Badger-Two Medicine. “I didn’t really know a lot about the country before I started to fight to save it. I grouse hunted in its foothills and fished its steams where they came out of the mountains, but I had never really gotten into the center of the area or looked over it from a vantage point.”
The events at that meeting on that cold November night thrust Lou into the environmental fray that was raging over wilderness designation in the state. Lou says he knew that the US Forest Service representatives at the meeting were lying about their motives and their desire to protect the Badger’s wild resources. “All through the previous years I had observed the devastation of clearcuts and other activities on forest lands but thought that officials must know what they were doing and were managing those lands to best conserve their resources. When I found out that they weren’t I became enraged. I felt that they had violated the public trust they had been endowed with. I vowed to do something about it. This time the bulldozers wouldn’t come without a fight!”
Shortly after that meeting Lou attended his first Montana Wilderness Association Convention. He was on a mission. “I had to find out how to form a group to fight this development. I hadn’t the slightest idea how to do it. During the first day of the Convention I was extremely frustrated. I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t know how to approach anyone about this crucial issue. Thankfully, on the second day, Art and Elaine Sedlack and Chuck Jonkel showed up. They helped get the ball rolling.”
That was the start of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance. “People came out of nowhere to help. John Frederick loaned us the constitution and bylaws of the North Fork Preservation Association so that we could use them as a model for those of our organization and register us as a 501c3 non-profit. Don Marble came out of nowhere and offered to write our appeal of the Hall Creek Well if we did a lot of the legwork. I and many others conducted many wilderness walks in the Badger. We knew we had to let the land speak for itself. If people knew how priceless the Badger was they would come to its aid.” Lou was right: Congressman Pat Williams later told Lou and the GTMA that the Badger had more letters written for it than any other area in the state during the deliberations over a statewide wilderness bill.
Best of all, Lou and his colleges won all our appeals concerning development in the Badger.
Lou says that he had his own epiphany about the Badger the summer after the GTMA formed. “I decided I had to see the Badger for myself. Leslie Shaw offered to take me into the center of the area on an overnight horseback trip. We started at Marias Pass and worked our way up the Two Medicine drainage to its headwaters. As we crested the divide between the Two Medicine and Badger Creek we broke into a big meadow and stopped to rest the horses and look over the scenery. It was my first glimpse of the Badger Valley. Morningstar and Goat Mountains loomed in the distance. An eerie feeling came over me. I detected a presence there. It moved me to tears. It was the spirit of the Blackfeet ancestors. I knew they needed my help. I wouldn’t let them down.”
Lou says that throughout it’s almost 30 years of existence the energies of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance have ebbed and flowed. “With the passing of the pro-development Reagan administration and the arrival of the more pro-conservation Clinton administration, the threats to the Badger were alleviated and the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance slipped into inactivity. I registered us as a non-profit every year just to keep us alive in case there was a need for us. The threats to the wild Badger have not gone away and never will as long as it remains unprotected. That fact has become blatantly clear as the Bush administration came into being and the new threat of Fracking came on the scene.”
Now Hall Creek is threatened once more.
But Lou says there is hope on the horizon. “The Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance has arisen again with a whole bunch of new players and energy (and some of the old tired ones!). There are many, many new allies amongst the Blackfeet and the conservation groups. Despite all the years of dealing with the Badger’s threats, I am excited about the new energy that is coming to the Badger’s aid. I know that in the end we can win and give the wild Badger-Two Medicine the protection it deserves.”