The Flathead Audubon Society will present Steve Thompson of Whitefish with their Conservation Achievement Recognition at the September meeting. Steve has had an impressive impact on Montana conservation issues since he arrived in Northwest Montana in 1991. Although Steve readily admits he doesn’t do well as a “cog in a bureaucracy”, he does recognize the importance of collaboration and building relationships to get anything accomplished.
How did a boy from the Rust Belt of Ohio become such a strong advocate for wilderness, the environment and the health of our planet? Steve credits his involvement in the Boy Scouts and his attendance at Deep Springs College on the California/Nevada border. This two-year college in the desert, known for training young men for a life of service, whetted his appetite for remote, idiosyncratic places. He worked seasonally at Zion, Isle Royale and North Cascades/Stehekin and the Frank Church Wilderness, digging trail and fighting fires. After graduating from Cornell University and a final summer in the wilderness, he became a reporter for a Moscow, Idaho newspaper. When his dream job appeared as a field representative for the Montana Wilderness Association, Steve packed up and headed to Montana to work on the Kootenai/Lolo Accords. Later he continued his collaborative work as a freelance contractor for the Forest Stewardship Council where diverse interests were brought together in a transparent process to develop standards for sustainable forestry practices in the Rockies.
Steve’s next stop in his career was working for the National Parks Conservation Association to protect Glacier National Park. One of the important products of his efforts was the Gateway to Glacier Report which documented the importance of the environment and outdoor recreation for the Flathead’s emerging economy. NPCA’s outreach campaign won a national award from the Natural Resources Council. While working on Glacier National Park issues, Steve recognized the importance of building better relationships with our Canadian neighbors and helped initiate the National Geographic Crown of the Continent Map Project. A total of 65 workshops were held throughout the Crown area in the U.S. and Canada. Participants discussed what was unique and important about their areas and what was worth saving. Listening to people’s priorities and learning from those who live on the landscape resulted in a unique map. Stressing the importance of place and building relationships with others who don’t necessarily agree with you can develop trust and enhance credibility, according to Steve. The National Geographic map that was the end result of this process built a local constituency and helped drive the Montana/British Columbia agreement signed by Governor Schweitzer.
After five years as director of the Cinnabar Foundation, Steve embarked on his latest and most important project, the critical need to address climate change. He is determined to bring people together to pursue local climate change solutions. His objective is to build on little successes to meet the formidable and immediate challenge before us. “We live in the most pivotal time in the history of our species,” he says. ”Carbon dioxide has increased more than 25% in my lifetime. That is incredible growth rate from a geological perspective. It’s important that we all get involved in the solutions.”
Through the group he founded, Climate Smart Glacier Country, he hopes to support local climate solutions that save energy and save money, too. Many citizens, Glacier National Park, the City of Whitefish and local businesses are supporting this effort.
Steve is concerned about the “spiral of silence” that currently exists. Most Americans are concerned about climate change but don’t talk about it. Through Climate Smart Glacier Country, he hopes to get people talking, doing more and preparing for the future. Besides being the main impetus behind the climate solutions group, Steve has started a business called Climate. Place that consults with homebuyers and offers educational seminars for realtors. It is his hope to create a market place for climate smart homes. Based on climate data, prospective home buyers will have the ability to purchase energy efficient homes in locations that will not be severely impacted by climate change.
One cannot help but notice Steve’s passion and dedication to conservation. The importance of protecting wild places, the ability to bring diverse people to the table and his current quest to tackle “the elephant in the room” -climate change- make Steve Thompson a worthy recipient of Flathead Audubon’s Conservation Achievement Recognition Award.