A Biologist With Courage and Vision

Rosalind passed away on Sunday June 6, following a valiant 5-year battle with breast cancer. To the end, she kept hoping for a miracle; in the end, it was she who was the miracle. Rosalind first came to Boulder in 1975 for a post-doctoral position at the University of Colorado, in the Department of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology. There she conducted research with Gretchen Stein on cell-aging, for the purpose of furthering our understanding of the biology of cancer cells.

After five years, Rosalind left her well-established and promising career in cellular biology to follow her childhood dream to become a wildlife biologist. She eventually settled in northwest Montana where she lived and worked in a wild and remote area for over a decade. She taught classes on wildlife for Glacier National Park, conducted research on various aspects of the local ecosystem, and eventually took the position as director of old growth forests of the northwest for Audubon. During her time in Montana she consulted for a number of environmental groups and successfully won an appeal against the forest service, preventing a logging project from destroying old growth forest in a nearby area.

Obituaries usually tell the best of a person. They are by design and intent positive distillations of a people’s lives. They are necessary to mark the passing of those who impacted our lives for better or worse. The above account is a fair and accurate one. It does succinct justice to a unique individual’s life.

Every contact with a fellow member of our species alters the trajectory of our existence. My all-too-brief times in Rosalind’s presence changed how I look at the world, though I didn’t realize this influence until I learned of her death last week from our mutual friend, attorney Jon Heberling. I now realize that her boundless enthusiasm for all aspects of living, her predisposition towards located the positive side of all things, had forced me to recognize that I often (seemingly more often than not) stared into the black light of negativity when confronted with harsh situations. That was not Rosalind’s way. Sure she could be angry and aggressive when it came to finding solutions to environmental problems. I saw this on several occasions while working with her, Heberling and others on the appeal of the Flathead Forest Plan, but she always punctuated these moments with smiles, laughter and sparkling light shining in her eyes saying in this way, “Yes, this is serious stuff and the entities we’re dealing with are bad guys, but there’s still a good joke to be found here. Shall we continue?”

After living in a wild part of northwest Montana for a number of years, in the mid-nineties Rosalind returned to Boulder, for several years with her beloved Samoyed, Kachina. Here she wrote a compendium of the natural history of birds of Colorado for the Division of Wildlife. After several years she returned to Massachusetts to be closer to her mother who was then ailing. Eventually she settled in Colrain with David Tasgal where she spent her last twelve years, teaching and studying wildlife biology.  Wherever Rosalind lived, she danced. Dancing was her other love, second only to her compassion for nature and all living things. In championing the preservation of wilderness, she was ever determined and stalwart. When dancing the weight of the world was momentarily lifted, and her heart became light.  Rosalind now rests in a hand-dug grave in the woods of northwest Massachusetts.

I first met Rosalind in 1985 when I began working with Heberling on the Flathead Forest Plan. My area of expertise was fisheries. Others specialized in the inner workings of ForPlan, the computer program/model for all of the forest plans, or grizzly bears or biological aspects of old growth forest and on and on. Heberling was the general in a way guiding and marshalling our forces which were information, enthusiasm, determination and a conviction that we were doing the right thing. During the years of this work I was struck by Rosalind’s easy grasp of complex issues, her quick insight into motives and possible future actions by members of the Forest Service and the timber industry, and most notable her boundless enthusiasm for the task at hand which often involved mind-numbing research and detail work.

In 1985 the Forest Service chose to issue the Flathead Forest Plan as a “trial balloon” precursor to other Forest Plans in the northwest.  The plans for forests in Washington and Oregon were done years later.  Roz’s group “Resources Limited” appealed the Flathead Forest Plan to the Chief of the Forest Service.  The appeal raised issues of old growth, fisheries, grizzly bear habitat and road densities.  It also lead to tours of the forest by locals to show the Forest Service what was going on its own forest.  Some of the tours were had their entertaining and enlightening moments.  Kathy Togni in a bear outfit.  Dick Call (Glacier District Ranger) taking a swing at Grey Oulette, and the head Forest planner getting stuck on a downed log.

In a one-hundred page decision, the Chief of the Forest Service decided that the Forest Planning Act regulations mean what they say,  and directed the FS to extensively revamp the FFP on all issues.  The decisions give by the Chief led to a drastic reduction in clearcutting on the FF.  The volume for the Flathead dropped from 100 mil bf to 10,  and has stabilized near that figure  This was a 90 percent drop,  the most precipitous decrease for any forest in the US.  The Chief’s decision applied to all forests,  particularly those in the NW.  The changes wrought by these appeals changed the way the FS does business in the northwest.

While searching on the internet for information on Rosalind I came across this from a thread on Left in the West:

“As some of you may have noticed British Columbia announced its intentions to ban all mining, oil and gas development, and coalbed methane development from the Canadian Flathead Valley

…How significant is this development? This a probably the greatest signal victory for the region, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, and mother earth in a generation.  I could think of no better gift on Glacier’s 100 year anniversary than this.’’

… I applaud the efforts of the citizen activists of the Flathead, and their counterparts in Canada, who worked for 35 years to make this possible. Without the tremendous grassroots support for preserving the headwaters of the Flathead Valley, the politicians could not have succeeded. There are many people who deserve credit, among them: John Frederick, Wayne Herman, Richard Kuhl, Lex Blood, Jim Cummings, Jon Heberling, Doug Chadwick and Karen Reeves, Rachel Potter, Dave Hadden, Steve Thompson, Rosalind Yanishevsky, Loren Kreck, Dan Short, John Gatchell, Elaine Snyder, Diane Boyd, Thurman Trosper, Jack Stanford, and others.

Today, the development issue was an attempt to mine coal in the upper reaches of the Canadian Flathead, at least 25 miles north of the border. But in the early 1970s, the initial proposals for development involved two coal filled mountains just nine miles NW of Glacier National Park, mountains that would have been converted to pits a mile wide and a thousand feet deep, just a one-iron shot west of the Flathead River. Equally disturbing, there were proposals to build a new 3,000-person town a few miles north of the mine.’ “

The above issue had the help from a who’s who of environmentalists in Montana and was just one of many Rosalind was involved with. I’m grateful that there are individuals who care enough to give unflinchingly of their time and energy to preserve what’s left of good country. Rosalind was one of these few unique individuals.

It is no cliché to say that the world is a lesser place with her passing.

JOHN HOLT lives in Montana. His book, Yellowstone Drift: Floating the Past in Real Time is published by AK Press / CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at hunted@wispwest.net.