Barry Flamm's Frontier 

The organic pioneer may never run out of things to do

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He says his environmental policy positions had caused conservative lawmakers and agency staffers to ostracize him. "I didn't have any allies come running."

He says he'll never forget this: On the day of the announcement, he was walking down Independence Avenue. The director of the Soil Conservation Service was coming toward him, but when he saw Flamm, he crossed the street to avoid him and then crossed back over.

"The people I worked with, they didn't want Flamm to rub off on them," Flamm says. "It was kind of a lesson. It didn't really bother me that much. I knew what I stood for."

Flamm penned an editorial in the spring of 1982 that was published in High Country News and other publications around the country.

click to enlarge President Richard Nixon presents Flamm with the Arthur S. Flemming Award. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BARRY FLAMM

"The Reagan administration is systematically tearing apart the contributions of nearly a century of environmental work in the country," he wrote. "This destruction is occurring in virtually every agency across the federal government. The administration is successfully attacking the institutions, the policies, the people, and, ultimately, the quality environment upon which we all must depend. The attacks on environmental policies by the Reagan administration have been so large, so inclusive, and so out of character with a century of conservation direction in this country as to be nearly incomprehensible. Never before have we experienced such total reversals in the progress we have made."

Yellowed newspaper clippings of the editorial are taped inside a frame that hangs in Flamm's basement. Near it is another frame containing the full text of the National Environmental Policy Act, which Flamm says he still reads occasionally.

'Almost nothing is exotic'

It was only after Flamm hastily halted his 27-year career in federal government that he learned he was eligible for an early retirement package. "It wasn't much," he says, "but it gave me the freedom to go off into the jungles of the Amazon and Costa Rica." He returned to D.C., earning a Ph.D. from George Mason University and serving a stint as the Wilderness Society's chief forester in the late 1980s, but he wouldn't remain homebound for long.

A large world map is displayed along the steps leading to Flamm's basement office. Dozens of pins are pressed into it, representing all of the countries Flamm's traveled to—close to 100. The pins are color-coded; the red ones indicate the top 10 places he still plans to visit. "Some people call it their bucket list," he says.

One of the red pins is in Myanmar. Three others are in African countries with gorilla populations. Dubrovnik, Croatia's on the list, as is Churchill, Canada, where polar bears come in the fall before migrating north. Another pin is in Cambodia; he's been there, but not to Angkor Wat, a city of temples dating back to the early 12th century. And then there's Peru. When he returns from his trip, that pin will be pushed into New Guinea. "I had it on New Guinea for a while," he says. "Sometimes I change my list."

click to enlarge Flamm’s visited dozens of countries, but he’s not finished exploring. The red pins represent his “bucket list.” - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Flamm’s visited dozens of countries, but he’s not finished exploring. The red pins represent his “bucket list.”

"The saying is how the world has gotten smaller and smaller," he continues, "but in my view, as I travel, it gets bigger and bigger, because the diversity, the cultures and the people—the more I learn and the more I see, the more I want to see...I always like to see what's on the other side of the hill."

Flamm's experience in Vietnam set the course for a series of projects in Asia. In the early '90s, he helped produce China's "Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan," funded by the United Nations Development Program. He led a sustainable forest project in India, and he served as chief of party for USAID's Nepal Forest Policy Project.

"At one point in time," he says, "I had visited Beijing more than any other city in the world—including Missoula, Montana—because everywhere I was going in Asia, I couldn't get there without going through Beijing."

In the late '90s, he led the development of a biodiversity conservation plan in Mongolia. That's where, in 1998, he met his second wife, who was the project translator. They married there a year later. Flamm's environmental consulting work also took him to Central America, South America and Africa.

"Barry likes to explore, and he believes there is no limit," says his wife, who asked that her name not be published. "At any age, people can open their eyes and explore the world."

"I've seen enough," Flamm says, "that almost nothing is exotic...I don't have the sense I did that first trip when everything was so exotic, so unique, and I was so sensitive to the smells and sights and sounds...The only place I think I haven't been that might seem exotic is New Guinea...especially if I got around headhunters."

"A beautiful place on Finley Point"

Flamm had been to every state in the country, but when he returned to the U.S. from Nepal, in June 1992, he chose to buy property in Montana. "I always thought about it when I was in Washington—'Oh, I'd like to set up a experimental farm and be sustainable and not use chemicals'...So I just jumped in and bought a beautiful place on Finley Point. It had space, it was beautiful; it had cherry trees and apples and pears."

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