Gary Macfarlane is one of the great advocates for wild places in the Northern Rockies. For roughly 40 years he has been a champion of wildlife and wilderness, with a special passion for the Clearwater and Selway-Bitterroot ecosystems — some of the largest wildlands in the lower 48 states.
We are giving Gary the Grizzly Times Hero Award in recognition of his perseverance, courage, humility, and inclusive approaches to protecting wild country, as well as for his advocacy for grizzly bears in this often overlooked but important ecosystem. From litigation to grassroots organizing to collecting data on the effectiveness of bear sanitation efforts, Gary has demonstrated creativity and commitment to keeping wild country wild and making the landscape a safer place for grizzly bears to flourish.
These qualities are rare – and deserve special recognition. We at Grizzly Times have worked with Gary extensively for many years and have seen firsthand his quiet ferocity and dedication. As grizzly bears find their way back to this ecosystem after decades of absence, they rediscover a land that is more secure because of Gary’s many contributions.
Thank you, Gary, for heroic work that is a model of effective and fearless advocacy for wilderness and the Great Bear.
For nearly 30 years, Gary was Director of the Moscow-based environmental group, Friends of the Clearwater. Although he recently “retired,” he continues to serve as an advisor for the organization. He is also on the boards of Wilderness Watch and Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
Gary grew up in the foothills of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and fell in love with wild country and backpacking as a boy. He plunged into advocacy work as a young man, working for the Utah Wilderness Association to protect Utah’s wildlands.
Lush inland rainforests and big rivers of North Idaho, Montana and Washington then beckoned him. In 1994 Gary joined the board and then staff of the Friends of the Clearwater (FOC), where he raised the profile of Clearwater Country and its unique flora and fauna, including old growth Western Red Cedar and Pacific Dogwood, world-class salmon and steelhead fisheries, and indigenous species such as the Coeur D’Alene Salamander.
But these big forests face massive threats in a region dominated by powerful logging industries that long ago captured the Forest Service – a land management agency that was created to protect the broader public trust but tragically soon after ended up doing little more than serve a few well-heeled special interests. The outcome has been a tidal wave of destructive clearcutting, with plans for more to come.
Gary – fearless, determined, and civic minded – led FOC’s undaunted efforts to speak truth to power both for the forests and for citizens across the country who care about them. He – and FOC – have enjoyed enormous success protecting forests and rivers in the Clearwater country and elsewhere due to grassroots organizing, effective political strategies, skilled legal work, diligence, and guts. As the political climate has become more polarized and more tilted in favor of big industry, Gary and FOC have adapted with creativity, innovation – and more perseverance. Meanwhile, he has mentored and inspired many young advocates who are carrying the torch and defending wild nature in various ways.
Gary pioneered collaboration with members of the Nez Perce Tribe, a people who have lived in this landscape since time immemorial, with treaty rights to the region’s abundant fish, wildlife, and forests. Their partnership has significantly benefited recovery of salmon and protection of forests and their wild inhabitants, and also served as a model for environmentalists in other regions.
During Gary’s tenure there have been major successes restoring large carnivores. Wolves were reintroduced to central Idaho – a huge ecological success. And Gary and FOC have long advocated for restoring grizzlies to the Selway-Bitterroot, which would advance recovery of all grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies by helping to reconnect long-isolated populations. They have recently been leading efforts to make this landscape a safer place for grizzlies that are finally finding their way back to the ecosystem.
In a 2020 Grizzly Times podcast, Gary offered this advice: “Tell the truth. Be firm… We’ve already lost a lot of wild country and wildlife, and species like the grizzly have already lost a lot of country that will never return. We have to insist that what remains wild must stay that way. We need to be staunch defenders, because we’ve only got one planet, and our public land system is in serious trouble now."
Thank you, Gary, for your staunch defense of the Great Bear and wild country -- and for inspiring a new generation of brave advocates.
For more about Gary, listen to this Grizzly Times interview: