Discovering Montana

Remarks by Gov. MARC RACICOT on the Future of Science in Rural America

Third Annual EPSCoR Conference, Bigfork, MT, May 30, 1996 ( to download text )

It's a pleasure to be here tonight among so many who are dedicating their professional lives to the creation of a better future for us all. I am particularly delighted to welcome Dr. Gibbons, Dr. Lane, and Dr. Moniz to this conference and to the Treasure State. Regrettably your visit with us will be brief, but it won't take long to become entranced with the specialness of this place and to begin to understand why we Montanans treasure this landscape and believe it is a place to build a flourishing future.

Senator Burns, it is always good to have you home, although we appreciate the hard work you do for us when you are away in Washington. I am particularly grateful that you have been able to arrange for these guests and others from Washington to visit Montana and become better acquainted with our real treasures - our people and our potential.

I know we also have project directors from several other EPSCoR states with us and I welcome you also.

As I understand it, the point of this conference is to discuss the future of science in rural America. So, with your indulgence, I'd like to explore with you some thoughts on this topic.

Perhaps the first notion that needs to be addressed is whether science will even be pursued in rural states like Montana. The implication seems to be that in these times of scarce financial resources, rural states and the federal government may not be able to afford to invest in developing a science infrastructure state-by-state. While all of us in public service are mightily challenged these days by the fair allocation of the taxpayers' money, we are also expected to continue and build a sustainable culture which offers a path to self-sufficiency, self-realization and promise to all those who choose to travel it.

The construction of that path will require realignment of old building techniques, utilizing new technologies and developing partnerships as we go forward. But build we will, and we must not allow all of our energies and financial resources to be spent on repairing the potholes.

You cannot live in a landscape like this and not intuitively understand the balance between the environment, the economy, and society. They are inextricably woven into the fabric that is Montana. Daily we take actions that will strengthen our economy so we can earn livings sufficient to support families, preserve this landscape as a place where we love to live, and maintain the civility of our communities, where we still talk TO each other rather that AT one another.

Our economic history is based in the land. Whether we were farmers, miners, or lumbermen, we worked hard for the financial benefit of those living outside our borders. We were pawns in the hands of deal brokers and international markets.

Today, we know we can create our own destiny. Giving an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, drawing strength from family and community, and believing that this landscape somehow binds us all together with the past and into our future, we are becoming self-reliant. At some level, that is the goal of every rural state . . . to provide the possibility of a self-reliant future for all of its citizens at home.

And for those in non-rural states, they should be applauding and supporting our efforts, because the better we are able to meet the financial challenges of operating a state the size of Montana, the less burden we are on others who are helping underwrite the cost of our physical and human infrastructure. Simply put, we could use a few more people here, earning decent wages and contributing to the cost of operating the 4th largest state, which has the 44th largest population. Science and the technology that develops from the pursuit of questions, gives places like Montana the chance to overcome our traditional barriers to economic self-sufficiency. Jobs are no longer tied to natural resources but to human inclinations. And we think there are many who are inclined to call Montana home.

It is no mistake that Montana is the way it is. Some might characterize us as behind the times and in some ways that is true. Our communications director, Andrew Malcolm, who is with us tonight, likes to say that, A Montana is what America was. And perhaps it is this condition that offers the greatest promise for building a flourishing future.

We simply don't have to undo very much here in order to build a new future. And I would stipulate that in this place, where hard work is commonplace, where we know how to squeeze all the pennies from every dollar and roll up our sleeves to work together to solve common problems. Investment in science and technology development is practical and significant results are certainly possible.

First, is the issue of education. It is the states' responsibility - and most of you in this room share it. We all know we can no longer rely on single purpose skills to carry us through our professional careers. Rather, it will be our ability to think, integrate and conclude that will help us adapt to and survive well in an ever-changing economic world. These skills--thinking, integrating, and concluding--are the basis of research activity. To eliminate research from standard course fare is to only half educate our students. It is research - or doingness - that affords real opportunity for our students to apply their learning to practical problems. It is this activity that keeps their education fresh and useful to the private sector.

Earlier this month, we were fortunate to have four business leaders from major firms involved with agricultural products and services in Montana to counsel us on how to keep our College of Agriculture curriculum useful to the private sector. Laboratory experience and internships in private sectors research facilities were their first responses. The business community needs employees who can do things, not reiterate theories.

But beyond the responsibility of educating our youth for productive careers, public universities in states like Montana are the research arms for private sector businesses and government agencies.

Although we like to describe ourselves in big terms here in Montana, because of the 148-thousand square miles we share, it is really smallness that defines our character. Eighty percent of our communities have less than 3,000 people and 96% of our businesses employ less than 50.

Even our State government is growing smaller - a 4% reduction in staff while the state's population has grown 6%. We can't expect our communities, governments or businesses to have the capacity to conduct their own research or know about the latest technologies. Nor should we, when we can more efficiently use the capabilities of our public universities while providing them real life questions for their students to answer. Let me give you a few examples.

Twenty years ago, scientific data led the state to develop a public policy of not stocking our fisheries with hatchery grown fish. Bucking the trend, we took hatchery fish out of our rivers and streams and found, as we knew we would--because of our research--that the native and wild fish actually survived better.

As a result, Montana fisheries are world renowned, and the revenue generated from their enjoyment contributes about $100 million to the state's economy annually. Our decision to maintain our fisheries in their natural state has not only contributed to our economy, but now, because these are the only pristine fisheries in the West and because we have methodically kept data about their habitat, they will become one of the research tools to be used to understand and hopefully eliminate whirling disease.

The implications of this research are broad. From the most basic, restoring fish health and reducing the cost of larger and larger hatchery transplants to restock dying populations in those states where fisheries cannot be returned to their natural state, to better understanding of the genetics of a wildness which seem to protect wildlife from disease.

This research can effectively only happen in a rural place, where low human pressure on the environment, our ability to talk to one another and make decisions based on fact has preserved a resource that now can contribute to the solution of a broad regional problem. Research activities within the university system will complement management decisions made by the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks.

This research activity is typical of the partnerships we are proud of here in Montana. Research on whirling disease will be underwritten with the help of federal, state, and private funds and undertaken by researchers from our universities, the State Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

We can also use our environment in a much different way to support education and research activities and that is as a lure to attract talented people searching for a lifestyle only available in places like Montana. I'm glad to see some of you here tonight. (Please remember, however, that despite everything you may have read in the national media, we DO have speed limits here--and they are enforced.)

There is no natural reason for our growing laser optics cluster of businesses or university physics expertise that supports their research needs other than the A one-hour rule. One hour to fishing, hunting, hiking and skiing. Maybe I can add to that the five-minute rule. Five minutes to work, even on the snowiest day.

Technology is helping us overcome our geographic isolation. Electronic communication and equipment that responds to digital commands from far places, allows us global access to data, minds, and equipment. For that reason we now look forward to Montana-trained scientists coming home to conduct their research on Montana campuses, using the equipment and collaborating with colleagues they left behind.

The benefits are obvious. Our students do not need to leave home nor do their parents need to incur the expense of out-of-state tuition to have learning experiences with the best minds using the best equipment.

Because of the draw of this place, we now have the capability of educating Montana students in the most sophisticated theory and with state of the art technology. For this reason and because of our growing research capabilities, we are attracting and growing our own businesses that offer Montanans decent wages for work worth doing in a place they love. Some fear that we will be too successful in our efforts to transition from an extraction-based economy and that because of the freedom that technology brings and the magnetism of this landscape and its people, portions of the state are ripe to become the next Silicon Valley or Boulder.

We are looking to our universities to help us understand the influences of human demands on natural environments, so we can better plan for human growth and natural preservation. Using both the Yellowstone and Glacier ecosytems, our universities are undertaking interdisciplinary approaches to understanding changes within these mountain environments. It is our expectation that the findings from this research will help us formulate public policy to help guide the prudent use of the environment without destroying the very thing most of us came or stayed here to find.

Again, it is the ruralness of this place that allows this research to be done here. Again, the results of this research will have implications and applications far beyond Montana's mountains.

We produce in Montana, both academically and technically. We have consistently turned out students capable of competing with graduates from the most prestigious - and expensive - schools.

Our grant and contract awards have nearly quadrupled in the last ten years and of this non-state funding, a large percentage went to student support.

Both of these accomplishments point to the quality of our faculty to teach and to do good science.

The future of science in rural America - if Montana can be used as an example - should be strong and getting stronger. Our rural characteristics have shaped who we are and our values. Work ethic, the ability to talk to one another, to work together to solve problems, and a respect and care for the natural environment are the very qualities that will complement today's technology to produce value from all investments in research capabilities. More importantly, this combination of rural qualities, technology, and investment will build and maintain that path to self-sufficiency, self-realization, and promise.

I do not leave Montana very often. But when I do, one of the most striking things I notice about urban America is that everything you see in places like New York or Washington, is man-made. You walk down any street and there is virtually nothing natural in sight. That not only creates a way of life, it creates a way of thinking.

Here in Montana very little of what you see outside is made by man or woman. That, too, creates a way of thinking, a helpful humility in fitting ourselves into the larger scheme of life. Because everything is bigger than we are--the mountains, the sky, the weather, the climate--we know that we still need each other. I mean, Montanans still have barn- raisings together, for pete's sake.

In the cities, on the other hand, I fear that important lesson that we all always need each other can be far too easily forgotten. Perhaps in the end this lesson can be one of Montana's most important contributions to the social salvation of this blessed nation of ours. We all still do need each other. And, in Montana, we don't need much research to discover that.

Thank you for your kind attention tonight and for your personal investment in creating a flourishing future for all. Good night. And God bless. ###

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