On Saturday,“Brandy” Brandborg passed away at home in the Bitterroot, surrounded by friends and family. He inspired countless policy makers and activists, including yours truly. He proclaimed the need to preserve our last, vulnerable wild country and the wild animals that depend on it.
Just a few weeks ago, Brandy’s contribution to wilderness was celebrated in Hamilton. Nearly 300 people jumped to their feet to applaud this leader of the Wilderness movement, the last living architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
The evening also featured Verena Gruber of the European Wilderness Society, who attributed the mounting wilderness movement in Europe to the work pioneered in the US by people like Brandy.
In classic Brandy fashion, he asked the audience who among them had met recently with Ravalli County commissioners to make the case for protecting more Wilderness. A few hands went up. Brandy: "See, we have more work to do!"
That was his mantra, from the time I first met Brandy some 30 some years ago, to his last public talk: "So what are YOU going to do to make the world a better place and save some Wilderness?"
Indeed, this was the first question he asked my husband, David Mattson not long ago. Both were dedicated field scientists and naturalists of a breed that is now nearly extinct. Brandy began his career studying mountain goats (like finding a needle in a haystack, he said), while David studied grizzly bears and mountain lions for over 3 decades. These species drew both men into the wildest country we have left in the lower 48 states.
After a couple hours, Brandy’s caregiver tried to shoo us away, fearing that Brandy was tiring. But talking wilderness and wildlife gave Brandy, David, and the rest of us there meaning in our lives. Who wanted to stop the celebration, the connection among kindred spirits sharing about the wild places that they loved?
The recent gathering in Hamilton left me, as always, with a long “to do” list, I had to laugh when an 85 year old colleague of Brandy's, who had just survived heart surgery, admitted that working with Brandy since the 1960s, he too left every meeting with a hefty list of tasks, none optional.
Brandy is the last of my mentors who showed me the ferocity, grace and commitment that conservation requires. Other teachers included Dr. David Love, Luna Leopold, Mardy Murie, Chuck Jonkel, and Frank and John Craighead. They have all passed, leaving us the responsibility for the fate of our precious wilderness.
At a time of unprecedented species extinctions, the devastating impacts of climate change, human overpopulation, our collective fate is in our hands. What kind of natural world will we leave future generations?
Thanks to Brandy and others, I have a list of tasks too long for this one life. And the complex challenges today will require a much expanded tribe. Brandy would offer this: each of us has to look inside and reflect on our skills, imagination, relationships with the land and animals that make us feel alive and connected to this sacred blue and green planet -- and decide to take a real, personal step
Please don't limit your involvement to sending a $30 donation to a nongovernmental organization. I am not saying that contributions don't help. But a personal act of compassion and daring -- a call to a congressman, an opinion piece in a newspaper, a poem, essay, painting, video, can have a much greater impact, if it is honest and authentic.
We all have creative talents, and if we are to leave a functional planet to the next generations, we must use the gifts we have been given. Thank you Brandy for sharing yours with us.