Note: This article has been edited for clarity (i.e. a sentence has been added at the beginning of the second paragraph).
A post on Instagram on August 11 from the Outdoor Advocacy Project declared that the Bureau of Land Management has cancelled its 2020 plan to auction off 85,000 acres of public lands around Moab, Utah for oil and gas development. According to the post, this miracle was the result of people signing petitions and adding their comments in an online campaign protesting the land auction. Signing petitions and joining campaigns often feels like a small and hopeless act in the face of government and corporate decisions, but it is vital that individuals participate in these small actions in order to protect our environment.
For example, environmental activism in Montana has always served to protect the Gallatin River, although it has been threatened numerous times over the past several years. In 2007, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality prepared a statement that would permanently protect the river. However, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition asked to withhold this protection so the Gallatin River could be open for collaborations with developers. Thirteen years later, permanent protection still hasn’t been granted to the Gallatin. Instead, the growing population in Big Sky and tourist attractions keep the river in harm's way.
Despite the imminent danger, hope still gleams. Though the river is often threatened, communities have always risen to protect it. In February of 2020, a lawsuit was filed to require that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality update its environmental analysis to consider Big Sky’s wastewater impacts as pharmaceutical pollution, blow-snow pollution and unfiltered wastewater trickle into the Gallatin River. Following this, everyday people took to social media to prevent a glamping resort from securing a 310 permit, which would allow the property owner to drill underneath the river and install cables for wastewater, natural gas and fiber optics. A petition was passed around and reposted on various social media outlets. Big brands such as Simms Fishing made people aware of the threat and the petition, and smaller individuals, like your friendly writer here, continued passing on the message. Although there is a constant fight to maintain the health of the Gallatin, it is because of the people’s continual support that the river has remained healthy. We don’t have to look farther than the clear waters of the Gallatin River to see the fruits of environmental advocacy.
In Montana, we are very lucky to be surrounded by natural environments like the Gallatin River. They appear numerous here under our big skies, and so plentiful that human life seems to have little impact on it. Montana has 3,443,038 acres of certified wilderness, which is roughly less than 1/3 of the wilderness in the United States. Despite these large numbers, our resources are limited, and the damage we cause to the environment hurts the ecosystems we depend on.
It is incredibly important that people remain aware and active about potential environmental threats by keeping track of the news, passing along information on social media and being active members within their communities. There are also online resources, like the Brookings deregulatory tracker, that help individuals stay informed. The Brookings tracker is an interactive internet resource that records all of the Trump administration's deregulatory actions, including environmental protections. It lists the agencies involved, the current status of the rulings and the dates on which action was last taken.
Once people are informed, it is vital that they take action, from signing petitions to joining campaigns to marching down the street to emailing government officials. Jason Del Gandio, a professor of communications and social movements at Temple University in Philadelphia told The New York Times that, “The biggest benefit from a petition is raised awareness.” The more people become aware and participate in a movement, the more likely it is that it will be taken seriously.
So, the next time you swipe on Instagram and see a petition to protect the environment: study it, sign it and pass it on.