What Billy Frank, Jr. Teaches Us About Our Obligation to Earth

Earlier this week, Billy Frank, Jr. was posthumously honored at the White House and awarded the Medal of Freedom. 


I got to know Billy through my work to preserve the Nisqually watershed. The last time we really had a chance to talk, we walked along the Nisqually River and spoke of salmon; which, for Billy, was a way of talking about Earth. In Billy, there was a spiritual totality. He taught we cannot save the salmon without saving Puget Sound; that we cannot save Puget Sound without saving the Nisqually River. That requires good forestry, development and habitat. That depends on us.

This totality nourished his zeal and grit.

What I glimpsed on our last walk was also his pragmatism. While the stakes are too high for compromise, moving forward, he counseled me that day, is sometimes more valuable than being mired in battle. Push. Move as far forward as possible in this sliver of time we borrow Earth, and during this precious borrowing, steward Earth for generations unborn. With Billy’s passing, that obligation, even more so, falls upon us all.

Billy Frank, Jr. being awarded the Medal of Freedom during this week of Thanksgiving provides us an opportunity to reflect on the natural beauty we have inherited, how grateful we should be for being able to enjoy it, and on our obligation to steward and preserve it.

Mike Foster