Montana Ethic Project: Sharing the good and bad of progress


Joey and Libbie Early

James Lecain, a historian of the environment and technology, looks at the question, “An Ethical Nature?”

This is the 26th chapter of the 32-part video series “The Montana Ethic Project.” This chapter features Timothy James LeCain, an associate professor of history and director of graduate studies at Montana State University in Bozeman, discussing the question, “An Ethical Nature?” You can watch the whole video below. Here is an edited transcript of how it begins:

“I thought I’d talk about Montana’s relationship to the land, to nature in particular, and how those issues have been brought up by the Superfund Sites in Montana.

“I’ll begin with a story.

“This story takes us back to the Deer Lodge Valley in autumn of 1902. In the 1880s there were a number of farmers and ranchers who moved into the Deer Lodge Valley. It was a high valley, a rich agricultural region, particularly well-suited for cattle, sheep, and domesticated animals. A number of ranchers, including the famous Conrad Kohrs, one of the founders of the state who eventually became a Montana legislator, moved into that area and began ranching.

“In the autumn of 1902 it was an unusually dry autumn. The rain did not fall a great deal. It was sunny and cool with cloudless nights. It was a beautiful autumn like we have come to expect in Montana. But this time something was different. One of the ranchers by the name of Nick Bielenberg, who was related to Kohrs by marriage, in the course of a couple of weeks began to lose many of his animals in large numbers.”

Here is another, edited excerpt from Lecain’s presentation:

“Missoula was what it was and is still today in large part because of places like Butte.

“What I began to realize was that we needed to get away from these ideas that we can have these pristine reserves that are cut off from the rest of the industrial technological world. Instead what we need to begin to embrace is an idea of seeing technology as part of nature, seeing humans as part of nature, and not trying to have preserves where it is nice and green and places where it is just an industrial park and the people who are harmed by those areas, well then it is just too bad for them.

“There is an ethical need for all of us to share in the damages that are done.”

PERC_Logo_MontanaEthicPERC—the Property & Environment Research Center—is a proud sponsor of the Montana Ethic Project. To learn how PERC’s ideas can help us honor one another’s rights to land, water, and wildlife,visit

First week: Project introduction.

Second week: Richard Drake on “Terrorism and the Consolation of History.”

Third week: Mike Gear on “The Value of Athletics.”

Fourth week: Franke Wilmer on “Gender Equity.”

Fifth week: Gordon Brittan on “The Founding Fathers.”

Sixth week: Jim Posewitz on “Montana Sportsmen and the Hunter’s Ethic.”

Seventh week: The Rev. Jessica Crist on “Religion and Politics: Can They Co-exist?”

Eighth week: Chuck Tooley on “The Montana Character.”

Ninth week: Steve Bullock on “Citizens United v. Montana.”

10th week: Carol Williams on “The Imperative for Female Government Participation.”

11th week: Bob Rowe on Technological Development.”

12th weekGeorge Metcalfe on “Economic Development in Africa and Its Relationship to Montana.”

13th weekBruce Smith on “Montana’s Food Economy.”

14th week: Peggy Beltrone on “Montana Wind Energy—Business and Politics.”

15th week: Mark Solon on “Creating an Intermountain West Startup Economy.”

16th week: Bill Yellowtail on “Futuring and Native Leadership.”

17th week: Judy Martz on “Trust in the Lord and He Will Direct Your Path.”

18th week: Bob Brown on “Teddy Roosevelt’s Shadow in Montana’s Big Sky.”

19th week: Gordon Belcourt on “A Montana Native Perspective.”

20th week: Dorothy Eck on “The Montana Constitution and the Right to Know.”

21st week: Pat Barkey on “The Montana Wage Disparity.”

22nd week: Thomas Power on “Valuing Montana: An Economist’s Observations.”

23rd week: Larry Simkins on “The Culture of Safety.”

24th week: James Shanley on “Education Reform.”

25th week: Greg Gianforte on “High Tech in Montana.”

26th week: Jakki Mohr on “The Corporate Model for the 21st Century.”

Next week: Steve Running on “Montana Climate Change.”

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