On Friday morning, I didn’t know who Sara Dant was. By Friday afternoon, I was wishing I could spend an entire week asking her about the history of the West, Frank Church and Idaho. On Nov. 9 at the Idaho Environmental Forum (IEF), I heard Sara speak about the past, present and future of conservation in the western United States. Summing up Dant in a couple of words is difficult because she is clearly a multifaceted powerhouse. She is fiercely reasonable but strongly optimistic, incredibly sharp and a problem-solver at heart.

Using Lessons from Frank Church to Think About the Future

Growing up in Arizona, Sara has a long-standing personal history in the West. She has dedicated her life to studying it.  Dant earned her doctorate in history and is currently a Professor of History at Weber State University  where she teaches about the American West and the environment. Specific to Idaho, her dissertation chronicled Sen. Frank Church’s career and the impacts of his legacy. If you ask Dant why history is such an important topic she would probably tell you that history is the key to learning how to build bridges, not burn them. Dant also believes history is important to motivating change. You’ll frequently  hear her say, "People care about what they know."

When she spoke at the IEF, Dant highlighted not only Frank Church’s accomplishments, but how he created his legacy. More specifically, Dant focused on was Sen. Church’s commitment to bipartisanship and compromise, as well as his ability to facilitate difficult conversations. When the presentation opened up for questions, one audience member referred to our state’s conflicted views on additional wilderness designations. They asked Dant, "What do you think Frank Church would do?" Dant said she thinks Sen. Church would have found the middle ground. He would have had both sides sit down at a table and address the concerns directly and transparently. He would have had an open discussion about who was willing to compromise and where. Dant encouraged us to reflect on Sen. Church’s tactics as a politician and Idahoan, and asked her audience to take something away from those behaviors.

Dant Considers Our Wild Idaho

ICL had the opportunity to interview Dant for ICL’s Wild Idaho podcast while she was in town. If you haven’t heard it, this episode is a great place to start to get a sense of Dant’s work and who she is. In our 30-minute episode we talked with Dant about what makes Idaho a unique tile in the mosaic history of the American West.

We discussed how U.S. citizens need to change the way we think about working together and reframe how we think about the West. Dant’s newest book, Losing Eden: An Environmental History of the American West, examines how the West has been put on a pedestal. Dant challenges this perspective and asks her audience to think more honestly about western states, like Idaho. Western states are not places of unlimited, untapped natural resources. Americans, including Idahoans, need to be mindful about how they utilize the resources we are so lucky to have. She reminds us that natural resources made living here appealing in the past and urges us to take care of them to give us strength into the future. Dant’s knowledge on the subject is extensive. During the interview for the podcast, we discussed the lessons we can learn from passionate politicians like Frank Church and considered who might be paralleling those ideals today.

Most importantly, we talked about what we can do moving forward. Dant stressed the importance of modeling good behavior for our future generations and  encouraged everyone to find an issue they care about and get involved by finding a local group working on that topic. She emphasized that it does not matter what the issue is, just that you add to the effort.

Meeting Dant, talking about her work and interviewing her for our podcast was an honor. She has such a breadth of knowledge. To hear more of her delightful wisdom about Frank Church and conservation in the West, take a listen to our newest episode of the Wild Idaho podcast.