As a Montanan born and raised, Edward Barta speaks passionately about the outdoors. He cites days hunting and fishing with his grandfather on the Musselshell River as formative moments: “Days spent fishing and hunting with my grandfather were some of my most cherished childhood experiences. They were primal, essential events that formed my developing passion for the outdoors and rivers – fishing, canoeing, photographing – just appreciating the natural surroundings.”
That love for Montana and the outdoors continued even as Edward’s career as an educator took him abroad. Between teaching stints in distant places like Poland and Tunisia, Edward always enjoyed his visits back home. “I taught overseas for over 20 years, and whenever I got off the plane and came home to Montana, I always appreciated the clarity of the air,” he recalls. “Pine-scented air if you will.”
Now retired, Edward splits his time between Billings and the small community of Nye in Stillwater County. A lifelong photographer, Edward enjoys shouldering a large format camera to take black and white images of Montana’s riveting natural scenery. His love of Montana and concern about threats to his beloved state – particularly from oil and gas development and climate change – drives his involvement with Northern Plains. “We need wild places for spiritual reasons,” says Edward. “They’re part of who we are, and I feel that we’re losing them relentlessly.”
Edward first got involved through Northern Plains’ Stillwater County affiliate, Stillwater Protective Association (SPA). In 2014, SPA members nominated and elected Edward to be their representative on the Northern Plains Board of Directors. “I think that my enthusiasm for Northern Plains started then,” Edward recalls. “There was just so much going on.” That initial involvement has blossomed into work on Northern Plains’ successful campaign to establish radioactive oil waste rules for Montana, helping lead our campaign to stop NorthWestern Energy’s proposed Laurel methane plant, continued organizing with SPA, and serving as Northern Plains’ current vice-chair.
More recently, Edward’s involvement with Northern Plains’ work on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has led him to launch a “racial justice reading group” for members. Currently, members are reading Jubilee by Margaret Walker, a story about a biracial woman enslaved during the American Civil War. When asked about what prompted starting the reading group, Edward points to the power of narrative: “I’m a retired teacher, so I’m a strong proponent of using literature to teach life lessons. I’ve taught kids at all levels, and you can talk to them endlessly, but when you find a good book or a good story, that’s what they remember. Books and stories speak to our sensibilities as people.”
Ask Edward why he chooses to dedicate his time to Northern Plains, and he points to the organization’s track record and staff: “I have a deep appreciation for Northern Plains, its solid history, and admiration for all the people that are involved in it.” He adds, “Many of us [members] never thought we’d be in the position we are: speaking publicly at hearings, testifying at the legislature, writing letters to the editor in the paper. Northern Plains sets up everyday people to be in the right place, at the right time, with their message.”