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Jack Potter, Glacier Park's Conscience, Retires

Photo of Jack Potter in NPS 'Issue'
On May 2 of this year, Jack Potter retired after 41 years with Glacier National Park, one of the few National Park Service employees to spend his entire professional career in one place.  To many of us on the ‘outside’ of Glacier’s internal operations, Jack has been the conscience of the bureaucracy for Glacier’s safekeeping.  The future challenges and threats facing Glacier are many and  Jack’s vigilance and integrity will be hard to replace.  It is fairl to ask, “Who will be the next Jack Potter for Glacier?" 
 

Jack ended his career as chief of Science and Resource Management.  He started as a seasonal trail crew worker and worked his way up, learning the park from the inside out.
 
As he said in an interview with the NPS Park Science Magazine, “I have been very fortunate to be able to broaden my working experience and move upward in the ranks, especially in Glacier.”
 
Jack has received several honors for his outstanding work at Glacier.  He was winner of the 2003 Intermountain “Regional Director’s Award for Resource Management”, and the 2007 Department of the Interior “Superior Service Award”.  He is credited with strengthening the park’s management team with his “in-depth knowledge” of Glacier and the National Park Service mission and objectives, and is recognized as being committed to the “highest principles of leadership and integrity.” 
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Jacks can’t place his fondest memory of his time in Glacier.  “There are so many days and nights in Glacier’s backcountry”, and every one was memorable.
 
He recounted one funny incident when he was packing a trail crew out of No Name Lake.  He was having a problem with his pack string, and instead of tying his horse up after dismounting, he let the reins drop.  When he approached the problem mule, the mule stepped on his foot.  He let out a pained yell and half the pack string took off down the trail without him.  Later, walking out and leading the remainder of the string, he encountered a woman who slyly asked, “Are you the one missing a horse and three mules? They seemed to be in an awfully big hurry.”
 
Jack was part of many important Park decisions and decision-making processes.  He said the drafting and finishing of the Glacier General Management Plan was one of the more challenging and rewarding efforts for him.  The 1999 Plan basically “told the story of where the Park was headed for the next twenty years”.
 
But perhaps just as important as the guiding documents he helped author, Jack was vital to keeping everyday decisions from damaging Glacier’s amazing wildlife, fisheries and water.  He helped reduce the impact of chalet reconstruction and ongoing management on Glacier’s fragile subalpine ecosystem.  He made hundreds of daily management decisions to keep bulldozers out of creeks, pavement areas smaller, and Park, contractor or concessionaire activities quieter or more in keeping with the Park’s preservation mandate.
 
More recently, he used his position to help prevent mountaintop removal coal mining in the British Columbia headwaters of the North Fork Flathead River.   He did so by helping guide the 2009 IUCN/World Heritage site “in danger” review initiated because of BC mining and other threats.  Headwaters Montana was one of the petitioners of that issue.  
 
Jack said of that effort, “We were able to demonstrate the incompatibility of mining in this area with the world heritage site.”
 
He also called the recent agreement between BC and Montana to ban mining and energy development in the North Fork Flathead “the biggest thing in my career,” some 36-years in the making.
 
Yet mining development in BC is just one of many threats to Glacier.  Jack lists development pressure on Glacier’s perimeter and climate change as the two biggest.
 
He includes in those threats, the perennial issue paving the North Fork Road, oil and gas development on the Blackfeet Reservation, and adds that just the sheer volume of human visitors put pressures on wildlife and park resources that the public remains unaware of. 
 
The primary challenge will be keeping the Park from becoming an island surrounded by incompatable land uses.  The challenge will be keeping Glacier “intact and connected to adjoining wildlife habitat, particularly as the threat of climate change looms in the future.”
 
What does Jack see as his legacy to Glacier National Park?  Park Science Magazine asked that question.  He responded: “Resource protection has been a constant effort, with some problems that came and went and others that persist. I would say at least for the relatively short term, the General Management Plan, the Commercial Services Plan, and the Backcountry and Wilderness Plan and wilderness proposal have put some ideas into policy. There are many other efforts relating to fire and other issues that may also add up. Our Resource Management Plan was good for the time [i.e., 1994, updated in 1998], but it needs to be updated into a Resource Stewardship Plan.”
 
Stewardship.  That word seems to sum up Jack’s time and commitment to Glacier National Park.  Jack’s shoes will be very hard to fill, but surely his successors can strive for and maybe even exceed his record.  Glacier deserves no less.
 
[To read the Park Science Magazine article referenced in this article, go to:   http://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/index.cfm?ArticleID=326&page=1
 
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