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  • Writer's pictureLouisa Willcox

Episode 21 - Jim and Heidi Barrett

Jim and Heidi Barrett

If you are feeling depressed by the state of our nation, take hope and a few minutes to listen to the stories of two conservation heroes, Jim and Heidi Barrett.  Jim and Heidi are long-time residents of Silver Gate, MT, near Cooke City on the doorstep of Yellowstone Park. They raised their son in the company of grizzlies, moose, wolves, and other wonders of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. With modesty and courage, they took on – and won -- some of the biggest environmental threats facing their wild corner of the ecosystem. They were leaders in the epic battle to stop a gold mine from being built at the edge of Yellowstone Park; they worked to bring under control the escalating use of off-road vehicles; and they played a major role in improving sanitation systems in an area that had long been a “black hole for bears” because widely available garbage had caused so many bears to be killed.

Jim and Heidi Barrett are proof that a few people with big hearts and determination, can make an immeasurable difference for the wild, and all of us.

For more on Jim and Heidi and the efforts to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears around Cooke City, see my blog:  Trash Talk: Cooke City Cleans Up Garbage, Saves Bears


"J: And I heard this kind of rumbling in the rocks, because we live out by a rockslide. And I’m shining the flashlight, and low and behold, within ten feet of me there are three grizzly cubs that -- they’re about the size of a two-year old baby. And I’m thinking: “Uh oh, that’s not good.” I had a Volkswagen beetle, and for some reason they just thought that was the coolest thing in the world. And they started climbing all over it, just like it was a jungle gym or something, just kind of mauling it. And then all got down off the car and followed their mother out the road."

"J: ….we went up on top of Henderson Mountain, and we just thought: “How cool is this, looking at the Wilderness, looking down at the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. How cool is this, to be in a place that’s so protected?” And then, like a year later, I find out that even though we had seen small time mining and drilling forever, suddenly now this is the real thing -- and there’s this proposal to do this huge mine. And because I was a resident there, and I already had a passion for the place, I couldn’t not be involved in that."

"H: I mean, NIMBYs serve a purpose – “Not In My Back Yard” -- is that they can be the watch dogs, and the canary in the coal mine, to be the first people to kind of say: “Wow this could be huge and we should get involved.” And I’m really glad we did. It was a great adventure and it was the right thing to do."

"…we knew that when bears got into the dump right after they got out of hibernation, that they were usually a “dead bear.” That’s what Cooke City was known for -- they were the “black hole” for bears in the ecosystem."

"So it was kind of a “win-win” situation to get that compacter put in up in Cooke City.…now the dump site is like kind of a tourist attraction up there. It’s where Cooke City has its art gallery, because any art that is found, it’s now up on the walls. And there’s a big section of books that you can come and get, it is like a Goodwill Store."

"…for the most part, even though bears still wander through on their treks from wherever they’re coming from or wherever they’re going, there is not the confrontation and the mortality that was occurring before [the compactor] happened."

"H: …if we can concentrate on some of the success stories we’ve had, and also help people learn how to live with grizzly bears, I think that we can make some big strides."


Books by Barbara Kingsolver

Anything by Rick Bass

Sun Magazine

Check out Jim’s art.


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