The Arnold Bolle Award

Bruce Farling - 2000

Bruce Farling
Bruce Farling

The image of an iconic trout angler is someone like Izaak Walton. He of the 17th Century tome, The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation. However, that’s not who one recalls when one thinks of the whip-smart and pugnacious Bruce Farling.

The 1980s saw Bruce spend considerable professional muscle working for an improved Clark Fork River as the Clark Fork Coalition’s conservation director. With a degree in environmental sciences from the University of Oregon and an upbringing that included eight siblings, the native-born Pennsylva­nian was well prepared to punch above his weight. He tussled with the opposition for Superfund restoration and removal of toxic mine tailings in the Clark Fork, sawmill site cleanup, and municipal wastewater discharges, among other issues.

In February 1994, Montana Trout Unlimited took notice and embarked on a new course by hir­ing Bruce as its first full-time executive director. Additional hires soon included an administrator, conservation and outreach directors, and a TU Big Blackfoot Chapter project coordinator. Bruce amassed a stable of advocates like none other in the national TU system to join the struggle to restore, preserve, and protect Montana trout waters.

Consider accomplishments that resulted in westslope cutthroat trout thriving in Silver Bow Creek, once a toxic channel second only in lethal water quality to Butte’s poisoned Berkeley Pit. For the first time in a century, bull trout migrate up the Clark Fork to the Blackfoot headwaters. Milltown Dam and the millions of tons of toxic sediment entombed above it are no more. Native Arctic grayling spawn in creeks that etch cattle ranching country in the Big Hole River Valley.

Bruce’s willingness to go to the mat is best illustrated by his grappling with TU’s bosses in the nation’s capital. In the early 2000s, TU’s national office decreed that stream access initiatives were off-limits to state councils and chapters. The grumbling suggested deep-pocketed donors were offended by a national crusade for public stream access. Bruce would have none ofit. “[W]e were not going along with that,” he recalled to the Missoulian in May 2017. TU Montana led a national uprising that forced the national office to back down.

Still, Trout Unlimited, an organization with a clear conservation vision, named Bruce one of the 10 most influential TU personalities during the group’s first 50 years. Western Montana con­servationists conferred on him the Arnold Bolle Professional Conservationist Award, and he re­ceived the Distinguished Professional Career Award from the Montana Chapter of the Ameri­can Fisheries Society.

There’s no telling who old Izaak Walton envisioned when he wrote, “The person that loses their conscience has nothing left worth keeping.” But it wasn’t someone like Bruce Far­ling, whose relentless conservation conscience is always right there on his rolled-up sleeves.

Bruce lives in Missoula with long-term part­ner Bonnie Gestring.

By Tom Palmer, Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame

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