Sara Johnson is one of the most courageous, ferocious, and underappreciated champions of wildlife and wild places in the Northern Rockies. For roughly 50 years, she has persevered on behalf of wildlife, from grizzlies to goshawks, in the face of hostile agencies, including the Forest Service that she once worked for.
We are giving Sara the Grizzly Times Hero Award in recognition of her integrity, humility, and determination to leave the ecosystems of the Northern Rockies better than she found them. With a Ph.D. in biology and unparalleled on-the-ground experience, she has spearheaded countless lawsuits that have succeeded in protecting habitat for grizzlies and other species. When other environmental groups drop the ball, Sara and her organization, Native Ecosystem Council, quietly pick it up. Because she is not one to toot her own horn, we thought it was long past time to toot one for her.
We at Grizzly Times have worked with Sara extensively for many years and have seen firsthand her fearlessness and dedication. As grizzly bears arise from their long winter sleep, they awaken to a more secure world thanks to her many contributions.
Thank you, Sara, for your heroic work that is a model of effective advocacy for wilderness and the Great Bear.
Sara Johnson is one of the bravest and most understated wildlife advocates in the Northern Rockies. For over fifty years, she has worked to protect wild country from bulldozers and chainsaws, often unleashed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. She has also coached countless environmental attorneys about wildlife biology and what it takes to win in court.
Sara hails from the prairies in South Dakota, where her father set a positive example by protecting prairie dogs—an unusual practice among ranchers. After getting her Ph.D. in wildlife biology, Sara got a job in 1979 as a wildlife biologist on the Targhee National Forest in Idaho, west of Yellowstone Park. The Forest Service was then desperate to hire women—and to find staff who could speak Spanish and communicate with Basque sheepherders about grizzly bears at a time of mounting conflicts resulting from depredations on sheep by grizzly bears.
What Sara didn’t know was the massive and destructive scale of a clearcutting and roadbuilding program that had recently been launched by the agency. As she later recounted, “I had no idea what I was getting into. That was my awakening, my education about logging and its impacts on grizzly bears.”
Weary of her struggles inside the agency to rein in the Targhee Forest, Sara then applied to the adjacent Gallatin Forest for a job she was overqualified for. When the Forest Service turned her down, she challenged the agency and won. During that time, Louisa became friends with Sara, who coached Louisa about the destruction being wrought by the Forest Service, all the while modeling enormous courage in the face of hostility among agency higher-ups.
Fed up after fourteen years inside government, Sara quit to start her own environmental group, Native Ecosystems Council, with the goal of systematically challenging a deluge of toxic decisions being promulgated by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in landscapes neglected by other conservation groups.
As a tireless advocate for wildlife, Sara says she has found the perfect line of work. “I understand all about logging, and I know how the Forest Service does nothing for wildlife. I'm focused—one might say obsessed—and I like the challenge of saving our forests.”
Sara has for a long time worked closely with Mike Garrity and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “We have enormous respect for each other and make a great team.”
Thank you, Sara, for your staunch defense of wild country and grizzly bears that depend on it.
For those of you who would like to contact Sara or, better yet, support her important work, she can be contacted at:
Native Ecosystems Council
P.O. Box 125
Willow Creek, MT 59760