by Steve Thompson
Mary and Gary Sloan have been quiet, steady and innovative leaders in conservation in northwestern Montana for many decades. Never ones for the spotlight, they have inspired countless Montanans to get involved in Montana’s natural history.
Gary hails from Troy, where he grew up helping his dad log cedar with cross cut saws during the later years of the great Depression. Mary O’Neil was born in Deerlodge and grew up in Superior. Each gravitated to Whitefish, he for the hunting and she for the skiing. Around the same time they were hired at Whitefish High School, he as an English instructor and she as a home economics teacher. Both Mary and Gary were much loved and respected by their students. Gary explored the conservation ethic with his students using the “Sand County Almanac” for much of his career. In the classroom and the field Gary and Mary love to introduce others to the wonders of the nature.
Together, they have enjoyed a long history of volunteer projects for Flathead Audubon, Native Plant Society, Montana Loon Society, the Nature Conservancy, Montana Wilderness Association, Flathead Forestry Project, and the U.S. Forest Service. They have led native plant walks, monitored loons, conducted multi-year fire success research, and mentored new hunters. Gary became infamous for leading the uninitiated on “Sloan bushwacks” deep into the wilds.
In the early 1990s they volunteered with Flathead Audubon to map and inventory old growth
forest groves on the Murphy Lake Ranger District. They have worked closely over the years with the Talley Lake Ranger District to monitor forests and wildlife. In the mid-1990s they were presented with the Danny On Award by the Flathead National Forest.
They are the brains and brawn behind the native flower herbarium at the Whitefish Public Library, which is featured on the National Geographic Crown of the Continent MapGuide. They built an attractive wooden case specifically for the library collection, and they pressed, described and displayed more than 100 Montana native plants in the collection. Mary also puts together a poster display of the “Native Plant of the Month” for the Library. Ever the adventuresome explorers, they regularly add new specimens to the herbarium.