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  • Writer's pictureLouisa Willcox

Episode 26 - Pat Williams

Pat Williams

In this interview, former Montana Congressman and friend, Pat Williams, shares fascinating insights from his long career in politics and work to protect the environment – while demonstrating his chops as a terrific storyteller. Pat served nine terms (18 years) in Congress. In addition to conservation, Pat has been dedicated to strengthening America’s education system, making schools safer for our children, advancing the arts, and fighting for the underprivileged.

Pat once remarked that he did not go to Congress as a conservationist, but he left as one. Pat sponsored legislation that designated the Lee Metcalf Wilderness north of Yellowstone Park and the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula, Montana. He led the successful legislative effort to save the Bob Marshall Wilderness from oil and gas development, and helped ban geothermal energy drilling near Yellowstone National Park.


“And this wolf [in a pen inside Yellowstone Park], this female wolf…was pacing back and forth against the far fence with her tongue hanging well below her jaw. And the look in her eyes, it looked as though there was a candle behind both eyes that glimmered and sparked and moved around on a breezy day. I realized it’s the epitome of wildness for me. That was the most wild thing I had ever seen. Well, if those things -- whether they’re grizzly bears or woodpeckers or wolves -- are going to be protected, we’ve got to give them a home in which they can be protected… In Montana that means public land. So, the only suggestion I have about managing them… is: give them space.”

“In my view these animals [such as wolves, bison and grizzly bears] belong to the world, but certainly to all Americans. And it does seem to me that this may be an area for the Congress to step into. And make a determination as to whose animals are these, and who should manage them, and how should they be managed, and what group of people should have a say in that management.”

“…The truth of it was, now looking back, we moved from an extractive economy to something else -- to a conservation or a tourism economy. It’s a different kind of economy that produced more jobs, by the way, than the extractive economy had produced during the last 75 years or so.”

“I was a little surprised… how earnest President Bill Clinton was about protecting the [Yellowstone] Park at that moment [from the threat of the proposed New World gold mine]… Bill Clinton called me and said: ‘Pat, what are you doing up there about this?’ This was after we had moved on it [a deal to stop the mine and restore the degraded landscape]… Later, he would call me and say: ‘Is Yellowstone Park okay? Is that mine gone yet?’ So, he was really into it.”

“I encourage my students and young people to get your feet wet. Even if you only read the paper every day. But you can do more than that. You can register to vote. You can get some other people to register to vote. You can listen to speeches, you can go to campaign rallies, you can read about things. Get your feet wet. Several of them, by the way, have run for public office and then told me or their friends: ‘I’m only doing this to get my feet wet.’”


Sycamore Row by John Grisham

​Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig

To Each His Own by Leonardo Sciascia

His Final Battle by Joseph Lelyveld


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