Inside Dale Burk’s very full publishing office in Stevensville, there are a couple of walls filled with plaques honoring decades of journalism excellence, outdoor advocacy and volunteerism.
Sometime after Dec. 1, the well-known owner of the longtime Stoneydale Press will find room to add another.
Burk said it will be one of two that are closest to his heart.
When the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame announced its 2018 class of inductees, Burk’s name was one of 16 on the list that included iconic names like Smoke Elser, Arnold and Helen Bolle, George Grant, Phil and Robin Tawney and Jack Ward Thomas.
In his nomination letter, Steve Woodruff, the Missoulian’s former opinion page editor, credited Burk’s hard-hitting exposes on misguided forestry practices in the 1960s and early 70s for helping to usher forest stewardship into the modern era and ensure meaningful citizen participation in decisions affecting national forests.
“A wave of gratitude hit me one recent November morning ... as I descended a ridge northward from the Continental Divide: gratitude for the healthy, diverse Bitterroot National Forest sprawling before me; for the weight on my pack frame — the first load of an elk destined for my freezer and table; for the blessing that is life in Montana, with its wildness, wildlife, and abundant outdoor opportunities,” Woodruff wrote. “And, not the least, gratitude for Dale Burk.”
“If not for Burk — lifelong journalist, publisher and conservation advocate — the productive, multiple-use forest I beheld and all Montana forests that sustain our lives and economy would be altogether different, altogether diminished.”
Woodruff said Burk broke new ground as a journalist during a time when the Montana press was shaking off its “Copper Collar” of control under the Anaconda Company.
“No tradition of environmental reporting existed then, much less investigative reporting by Montana media,” he wrote. “Burk broke new ground to inform and engage Montanans about forest management — catalyzing crucial public support for reforms by the Forest Service and Congress. Burk’s exhaustive work was controversial at the time, but has stood the test of time.”
When Burk joined the Missoulian in 1968, it had the largest circulation of any newspaper in western Montana.
Wayne Chamberlin of Helena said Burk’s series of articles in 1969 about controversial clear cutting techniques on the Bitterroot National Forest and his later testimony before U.S. Congressional committees in support of sustainable forestry practices opened the door for the public participation.
“When any of us attend a Forest Service meeting or write a letter to a Forest Service agent, think and thank Mr. Burk,” Chamberlin wrote.
From his office in Stevensville, Burk said that was all made possible by support from his editor and publisher who made a commitment at the time to set aside the resources necessary to inform the public on these important issues.
“I had the good fortune of working for an editor, Ed Coyle, who just got put into the Montana Journalism Hall of Fame, and a publisher John Talbot,” Burk remembers. “We had a meeting about all of this when all the dialogue about the environment and public policy began. They made a commitment they would assign their reporters to inform the public.”
“I enjoyed that and I appreciated that support,” he said. “All the people in the newsroom did. It was critical. They stood behind me under incredible intensity of opposition to work I did. As a writer, journalist and a citizen now, I appreciated that.”
This year, the MOHF executive committee selected 16 inductees from 39 candidates nominated by the public. The new class — the third since 2014 — will be honored during an induction ceremony and banquet on Dec. 1, in Helena.
“It is a remarkable list of men and women whose accomplishments span a lifetime of keeping watch over Montana’s natural wonders,” said Bruce Whittenberg, director of the Montana Historical Society and member of MOHF.
The hall of fame was created to honor individuals, both living and posthumously, who made lasting contributions to the restoration and conservation of Montana’s wildlife and wild places.
Others being inducted include Charles Allard, Ravalli; Michel Pablo, Pablo; Jack Atcheson, Sr., Butte; Stan Meyer, Great Falls; Len and Sandy Sargent, Cinnabar Basin; P.D. Skaar, Bozeman; and Gail Small, Lame Deer.
After the award was announced, Burk said he received a phone call from his sister, Marianne Roose. She told him she and her friends in the Eureka area had reserved two tables. His former publisher also plans to attend.
Burk went to high school in Eureka, but was raised in the small nearby town of Trego.
He said he’d heard that one of his classmates told his sister “the boy from Trego made good,” Burk said. “I like that…I’m honored that I’m the first working journalist to be inducted into the hall of fame.”
For Burk, being included is the “ultimate in the lifetime achievement award.”
Burk learned about the honor through a phone call from Whittenberg, who once served as editor for the Bozeman Chronicle.
“He said I suppose this doesn’t mean much to you after the Nieman,” Burk said. “I’m very proud of the fact that I was the first Montana writer to win a Neiman to Harvard…but I told him ‘Bruce, you have that all wrong. This is the one that means the most to me because this is where I live.’”
“I think in my lifetime, the two awards that my work has brought me that I appreciate the most are this one and 2004 being named citizen of the year in my hometown,” he said.