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Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff

February 22, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont. - In October 2016, five climate activists shut down oil pipelines by hand in a coordinated effort across four states, stopping about 15 percent of the country's oil imports for nearly a day. 

The film "The Reluctant Radical" is about one of those activists, Ken Ward. And it has been nominated for best feature documentary at this week's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. 

Ward shut off an emergency valve of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which delivers Canadian tar sands to Washington state. He has been part of other protests to stop climate change but said a big action like this was needed. 

"We're at the edge of an abyss. We're in a last-stage crisis, so we need everything," Ward said. "I think that the kind of action that we undertook is little used, however, and so I think we need a lot more of that. I think that it is more powerful than lower-risk protests, but I think both are important."

Ward was arrested and charged with second-degree burglary but was only sentenced to two days in jail. 

Another one of the so-called valve turners, Leonard Higgins, shut off a pipeline in Montana. In November, he was found guilty of trespassing and criminal mischief but has not yet been sentenced. 

Lindsey Grayzel directed the documentary and said her goal was to paint an authentic picture of Ward, including the difficult parts of his life. In the end, she said she found Ward's story to be an inspiring one.

"This is a film that shows, really, how difficult it is to stand firm in your beliefs, even when the rest of society is not paying attention," Grayzel said. "And I have deep admiration for all the valve turners."

She and three other filmmakers were arrested for documenting Ward's actions in October 2016. Charges against them have since been dropped.

Ward said it was strange watching himself as the focus of the movie - quipping he wishes he'd shaved a little more during its filming. He said he believes the personal approach of this documentary could inspire people to fight climate change.

"I don't think that dry writing about policy was working," he said. "So I was willing to, on my end, try to open my personal life and personal story because that might be more effective. It might be a more effective story."

"The Reluctant Radical" is screening at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts Thursday at 6 p.m. and Wilma Theater on Friday at 1 p.m.


Feb. 21, 2018


On February 20, 2018 at approximately 4:33 p.m. West Yellowstone Police Department Dispatch received a 911 call from a snowmobiler reporting that he and three others had become turned around while snowmobiling in a deep canyon somewhere near Lion’s Head Mountain  approximately 13 miles west of West Yellowstone. The snowmobilers reported that they were stuck, tired, cold and unable to find their way out of the deep ravine.

Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park and the U.S. Forest Service responded to assist with the rescue.

While rescuers were trying to find their way into the ravine through steep and technical terrain, the reporting party contacted dispatch and indicated that three members of his party riding snowmobiles had left him and headed out to the trailhead. He indicated, however that he was still stuck, had a broke down timber sled and was now alone. The snowmobiler had started a fire and was waiting for rescuers to get to him. The three snowmobilers were located at the trailhead by a Yellowstone National Park Ranger a short while later. They indicated that they had planned on contacting Search and Rescue when they got out to the trailhead.

While speaking with the three snowmobilers, from Appleton Wisconsin, the Ranger was approached by a second group of snowmobilers from Minnesota who indicated that a rider in their group had discovered the stranded snowmobiler however had been unable to get down to his location. Several members of that group went back into the ravine to assist him in getting out.  A short while later, the Minnesota group returned with the snowmobiler. They had managed to reach the stranded snowmobiler and assist him out of the ravine. The stranded snowmobiler, a resident of West Yellowstone later indicated that due to the deep snow and technical steep terrain, along with mechanical problems, he had been forced to leave his machine in the ravine with plans to return later and retrieve the machine.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin would like to remind snowmobilers to stay with your group and avoid leaving anyone behind. The harsh weather combined with severely cold temperatures could easily spell disaster for someone left out alone. Staying in a group in this case would have proven invaluable to the rescuers by providing better direction and ease of locating the stranded snowmobiler.


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