[Note: Prior to helping open the Northeast regional office in 2008, Abigail Dillen worked in the Northern Rockies regional office. These recollections were written during her time in Montana.]
Fighting for my backyard in Bozeman, Montana, means fighting for places like Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and thousands of acres of National Forest land that are still roadless and still wild. For me, knowing that these places exist—and that creatures like grizzly bears still live in them—is a necessity. Living beside them is an indescribable luxury. Just the view from my kitchen window makes it impossible to forget how much the work in our Northern Rockies office matters.
I first came across Wallace Stegner's famous Wilderness Letter in law school. I still revere it as the shortest and truest defense of wild lands that I know. He writes, " … [W]e need to put into effect, for its preservation, some other principle than the principle of exploitation, or "usefulness" or even recreation. We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope."
I always think about that passage when reporters and other curious people call to ask what is at stake in the battle over roadless areas. As a kid that grew up in suburban California and Manhattan, and with most of my life spent as a creature of cities, I think that Stegner's wilderness idea matters. The overwhelming national support for the roadless initiative confirms that I'm not alone.
Now that I live and work in Montana there are still plenty of days at my desk when I depend on the idea of roadless areas and grizzly bears, but I'm also lucky enough to experience the real thing. There is something about hiking in the wildest parts of the Northern Rockies that changes you for the better. Stegner would say it increases your chances of being a "good animal." And there are certainly lots of people living in the rural west who understand that.
There is a mistaken belief that support for conservation measures like the roadless rule is based exclusively in urban centers. I think that's wrong. Environmental issues are on the front page of our local newspaper everyday not just because national environmental groups are making life difficult for local industry but because all of us who live here are asking what's to become of our home. The majority of us agree that some spectacular areas like the Rocky Mountain front should remain undeveloped. The rest is up for grabs. Over the next twenty years, the potential for the loss of wild lands and of the species that depend on them is more daunting than I like to admit. At the same time, the fact that we continue to get a sympathetic hearing from the courts, the press, and the public makes me hopeful that we will succeed in preserving these places. In the meantime, it's a great privilege to be part of the fight.
Abigail Dillen came to work in the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice in 2000, and in 2008, she helped to open our Northeast office in New York City. She received her B.A. from Yale University in 1994 and her law degree from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley where she graduated Order of the Coif in 2000. Her current docket focuses on energy and climate issues, and she coordinates Earthjustice's national program work on coal.