National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

-Wallace Stegner

In the recent Academy Award-nominated film Don’t Look Up, humankind meets a dismal end when it fails to heed the warnings of scientists about an incoming comet that threatens to destroy Earth. While the movie was satire, many saw it as commentary on a series of issues, including the impacts of climate change and degradation of nature, often met by some with denial, indifference or apathy.

Todd Wilkinson, founder of the nonprofit online journalism organization Mountain Journal, and I have been working for decades to effect change through journalism. And we’ve combined forces here to turn your head; to show that change is incumbent on us all. We must take action. But what? And how?

The concept for this special edition of Mountain Outlaw, called “The Action Issue,” began as a conversation between the two of us and publisher Eric Ladd: We publish stories about important issues and have been doing so for years. Why don’t people take action to change issues they care about? Or, more aptly, what would inspire our readers to take action?

“Kaizen” is the Japanese word for “improvement” and espouses the idea that small, incremental—yet concrete—changes can bring about action. A similar concept applies to the “butterfly effect”: Even the smallest of actions can catalyze major change. They might even change the world. Indeed, some have.

The year 2022 marks the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park. We wanted to assemble this magazine to mark that milestone and allow us to reflect on issues in our region. We’ve worked with our contributors to conclude each story with a specific call to action. It’s a bold move and we’re moving full-bore, from climate change to saving wildlife and protecting our waters, confronting wildfire and development pressure that is fast changing the nature and culture of this place.

Inside these pages, we hope you’ll find a story that calls to you and inspires you to act. Perhaps it will be the tourist spectacle that is the grizzly bear-watching scene up Tom Miner Basin north of Yellowstone that Wilkinson writes about. He also penned a companion piece to veteran scribe Toby Thompson’s story on the 30th anniversary of the epic film A River Runs Through It. Thompson’s piece was written in 1991 during its filming in Livingston, Montana, and looks ahead at how this movie might change the Treasure State. Wilkinson’s is a reflective view at how Montana has in fact changed, for better or worse. Cause and effect.

“It’s said that you can’t time travel,” Wilkinson says, reflecting on these before-and-after stories. “Toby sets the pace, mood, tone, and delivers us into the past. And then you can travel through time [for Part 2] and take stock in changes and issues that have arisen—not all of them bad. If we had been courageous, how could my story have been different? That’s why this Action Issue is so interesting—and so daring.”

Our Featured Outlaw, Ryan Busse, author of the 2021 book Gunfight, recognizes that firearms are a part of Western culture and, as a former gun industry representative, bravely dives into the sparsely populated middle of a divisive topic. What inspired him to write a book about it? What led him to act? What do we do with what we now know?

We need not mummify the past, wrote Managing Editor Bella Butler, for while painful at times, aging comes with wisdom and evolution. Instead, we ought to use these stories of adversity, of actors and of action to move forward with intention.

This special edition of Mountain Outlaw, produced in collaboration with Mountain Journal—should cause all of us to think. And that’s what we’re doing here: handing you a collection of powerful stories and visuals we hope will motivate you to make a positive difference.

The writers, editors, photographers, artists and designers in “The Action Issue” realize that change is inevitable. So is moving forward. But we decide the direction to steer our future. Action is the rudder.

Joseph T. O’Connor
Mountain Outlaw

Joe O'Connor

Todd Wilkinson
Guest Editor
Founder, Mountain Journal

Cover image for the Summer 2022 Issue of Mountain Outlaw