Ralph Boland

On Dec. 8, 2019, Montana lost another of its environmental champions when Ralph W. Boland passed away quietly in his sleep.

His was a legacy of clean water, natural running streams, and vibrant fish populations. Born in Bemidji, Minn., on July 5, 1930 as the son of immigrant butter-maker Herman Theodore Boland and his southern belle wife Inez, the family moved south as Herman exercised his skills in the field and rose in the ranks of butter business, finally purchasing a farm and a creamery of his own in tiny Bloomfield, Nebraska.

Ralph graduated from high school there and began an early vocation as a bass player in a local swing band before that carousing came to an end when the US Army came calling during the Korean War and he was shipped off to England for wartime duties.

Returning home, he married local Bloomfield beauty Leona Rose and began to get serious about both a family and a career, having five children, Denise, Teri, Will, Cal and Carol, and finishing a biology degree at the Univ. of Nebraska at Lincoln. Moving to Colorado State Univ. in Ft. Collins to complete a Master’s Degree in fisheries biology, he took his first job in Missoula, Montana, a decision for which his family will be forever grateful.

The major portion of his professional career was spent administering Montana’s Stream Preservation Act. That 1963 law gave the Montana Dept. of Fish and Game the authority to challenge any state agency plan to alter a natural stream channel. It was the first law of its kind in the nation and became part of the public trust in fish and wildlife protection and management.

Ralph Boland was a special administrator of the public trust for that bold step forward in Montana resource management and never wavered in its implementation. His boots were literally in the streams of Montana from border to border defending the physical habitat that now produces some of the finest recreational fisheries on earth.

It was there that he went nose to nose with engineers, landowners and politicians who often preferred the convenience and economy of a bulldozed channel over bridges and alternative alignments. Ralph surrendered nothing. His talent and tenacity established that aquatic resources would not fall victim to the interstate highway system then under construction.

Today we have both a functional highway system and recreational stream systems. These amenities were delivered to our generation because a public trustee’s boots stood in the river and for the river. Those boots were on Ralph Boland’s feet for over a quarter of a century.

He is survived by his children and his second wife, Laura Gulbranson of Great Falls, and her children Heather and Tonja, and even some children of those children.

There will be a private service at the VA in the spring along with a ceremonial releasing of his ashes into one of Montana’s great rivers which he fought so hard to protect.

Ralph was a man of many talents, never idle until the time came for a drink with friends to wash away the dust of the day. He was a woodsman and a woodworker, an old bottle digger, a gem collector, a traveler, a husband, a father, a good man, an avid big game hunter and of course, a consummate fisherman. There is nothing he enjoyed more than stalking the wily trout. So when you go to put a line in the water and the river is running wild and free, know that Ralph Boland is not far, working a ripple as the current pulls against the meandering channel and rushes towards the open sea.