• An autumn morning looking south from the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Cathie and Gordon Sullivan

    In the Name of Nature: A photographic tribute to Lee Metcalf

    Essay by GORDON SULLIVAN
    Photography by GORDON and CATHIE SULLIVAN

    Lee Metcalf was born and raised in the agrarian town of Stevensville nestled in the prominent shadow of Montana’s Bitterroot Mountain Range. He grew to manhood influenced by two unique forces which would not only assist him in later life but scribe an indelible mark on the state of Montana.

    Raised among friends and neighbors who for generations forged a livelihood from the natural landscape, by way of agriculture, logging and mining, Metcalf grew to appreciate both the bounty nature brings to families and the  fragile character and rareness of wild places around him.

    Montanans elected Metcalf to Congress first as a representative in 1953 and finally as a senator in 1961. His role in Congress came at a time when the nation was embroiled in debate over the passage of the Wilderness Bill.

    First drafted in 1956 by Howard Zanhizer, the proposed legislation abruptly   etched deep lines of separation between powerful factions.

    The bill’s preamble reads: “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

     On one side stood those embracing the continued utilitarian use of wild America, on the other those advocating federal protection for untrammeled places such as Northwest Montana’s Cabinet Mountains area and the wild landscape that would one day become the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness southwest of Stevensville.

    Montana Sen. Lee Metcalf, armed with the lessons learned in the Bitterroot Valley, clearly saw both sides of the complex issue. He lent his voice and tireless diplomacy to the help ensure the passage of the Wilderness Act.

    The bill took 66 revisions and eight long years of compromise and conciliation before finally voted into law on Sept. 3, 1964.

    In the wake of political vision of leaders like Metcalf, America’s treasured wilderness system has blossomed from 9.1 million acres in 1964 to the 109 million precious acres we enjoy today.

    In recognition for his hard work and vigilant effort on behalf of wild America the spectacular Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge located just outside Stevensville was renamed in his honor.

    As yet another season of brilliant autumn sun settles atop the spiny Bitterroot Range west of the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge, we are reminded of a legacy of strong leadership that makes Montana truly special.

    Gordon and Cathie Sullivan are longtime contributors to Montana Magazine. They work from Libby. 

    To see the entire Portfolio on the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Refuge, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

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