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Photo by Patrick Colleran
May 01 2017

Thank You, Brian

We say goodbye to Executive Director Brian Sybert, who leaves MWA the strongest it’s been in our 59-year history

Announcements, Featured

We were in the middle of a “walking meeting” in Helena’s South Hills when Brian stopped.

“I’m going to share some news,” he began, slowing his voice like a doctor might when sharing lab results. “But don’t worry, everything is going to be fine.”

He explained he had intended to stay with MWA until at least 2020. He had recently received, however, an offer he couldn’t refuse. On June 1, he said, he would begin a new role as executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation.

Based in Durango, Colorado, the foundation works to protect and expand our National Conservation Lands. Administered by the Bureau of Land Management, these lands include 35 million acres of national monuments, wilderness areas, and other wild places, from the Upper Missouri River Breaks to the Rio Grande Del Norte.

It would be very difficult to leave MWA, Brian told me, but ultimately the decision was simple: this offer was an opportunity to make an even bigger difference for our public lands, water, and wildlife.

If you ask anyone on our staff, they’ll tell you that Brian is likely to make the most of that opportunity. When he first arrived at MWA in 2010, the organization had 12 employees working in five offices around the state. Six years later, MWA has grown to 25 staff members in eight field offices.

During Brian’s tenure, our team worked with Senator Tester and many remarkable organizations and individuals to pass the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, protecting 275,000 acres of National Forest and BLM land, including 67,000 as Wilderness. It was Montana's first Wilderness bill in 31 years. We campaigned with the Blackfeet tribe and other partners to successfully remove the 17 remaining oil and gas leases from the Badger-Two Medicine area. We launched a statewide trail stewardship program, built the largest pro-public lands movement in the West, and tripled the size of our network to 22,000 supporters.

Importantly, we’ve worked toward these accomplishments without sacrificing our staff's health. Our commitment to fair compensation, personal resilience, and teamwork has landed MWA on Outside Magazine’s list of 100 best places to work two years in a row.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Brian for inspiring us and for creating space for a healthy work-life balance. His leadership style – open-minded, ambitious, and optimistic – has helped all of us grow. I’m confident we’ll continue to thrive in his absence largely as a result of the legacy he leaves behind.

As executive director of Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF), Brian will initially be focused on defending our national monuments from the recent executive order President Trump signed mandating a review of national monuments designated in the last 21 years. We are currently partnering with CLF in defending one of those monuments, the Upper Missouri River Breaks, and we look forward to continuing that partnership.

We have a strong transition plan in place and will soon launch a national search to find a new leader for the oldest, state-based wilderness organization in the nation. Our state council has asked me to serve as interim executive director while this search is underway. In this role, I look forward to working with council members, our grassroots chapters, our many partners, our (really) talented staff, and with our members to advance a mission that began in 1958 to protect Montana’s wilderness heritage, quiet beauty, and outdoor traditions now and for future generations.

Gabriel Furshong began working for MWA 11 years ago as a community organizer in Choteau, Montana. Since then, he has served as MWA's campaign director, program director and, most recently, deputy executive director. He can be reached at gfurshong@wildmontana.org.