Story by Kevin Majoros
People who live their lives with conservation in their heart often find that their journey evolves over time. Changes at work, new acquaintances and the ongoing enlightenment that comes from day-to-day life can result in a path that branches out in multiple directions.
For outdoor enthusiast David Breck, his journey is about as twisty as the tributaries that surround him in Bozeman, Montana. After growing up in a military family in cities from Florida to Oregon to Alaska, he arrived in Bozeman in 1997 to begin studying for his graduate degree in Environmental Engineering from Montana State University.
Along the way he found work at microbreweries and brewpubs while doing stream work for the U.S. Forest Service. Breck launched his first environmental consulting firm in 2000 with a focus on conservation engineering.
His work included restoring trout streams, wetland ponds and spawning channels along with improving wildlife resources for water fowl and aquatic animals.
“Over the years, landowners in the Bozeman area had drained a good deal of the wetlands to raise crops,” says Breck. “We would recreate the hydraulics to bring the wetlands back and restore what was natural there.”
During the formative years spent establishing a reputation for the consulting firm, Breck had extra time to keep his hand in the microbrewing industry. Even after he had a solid company, his love for the brewing side never went away.
In 2007, Breck formed a new consulting firm with David Sigler and while they were building their new company, they also began looking into opening their own microbrewery. Bridger Brewing opened in 2013 with a full-scale restaurant and began to implement policies with conservation in mind.
“I have always been conservation-minded, and I like believing in what I am doing,” Breck says. “When we went into opening the brewery, I didn’t want to be wasteful.”
In house, they have focused on plastics and have eliminated plastic cups and straws. They are currently using metal straws and will eventually switch to paper. To address plastic sippy cups for kids, they took mason jars, drilled out the tops and inserted a rubber seal to hold the metal straws.
Those steps, along with compostable carryout containers, buying locally and other measures haven’t gone unnoticed by their customers. Breck adds, “Sometimes it’s the little things that start a conversation and make an impact.”
Pints with Purpose is hosted every Monday night at Bridger Brewing where a local conservation or community-minded nonprofit is designated to receive support from the nights’ sale of pints of beer. Organizations such as the Gallatin River Task Force and the Montana Wilderness Association are receiving proceeds from the weekly event which raises $20,000 annually.
It was through this process that Breck discovered Adventure Scientists for Conservation who are running the Gallatin Microplastics Initiative. Adventure Scientists leverages the skills of the adventuring community to gather difficult-to-obtain data that is crucial to unlocking solutions to the world’s environmental challenges.
The Gallatin Watershed begins in Yellowstone National Park and covers 1.2 million acres in southwest Montana. In a pilot survey completed by Adventure Scientists along the Gallatin River, they found microplastic particles in every sample. David Breck along with his girlfriend Chelsea Kaderavek, signed up as volunteers for the initiative to retrieve samples from remote locations in the area.
Already living an active outdoor lifestyle of bowhunting, fly fishing, snowshoeing, boating and backpacking, Breck and Kaderavek were a good match to take on the task.
Along with Breck’s son Hayden, they completed a six-mile snowshoe trek to three locations for sampling at Black Butte Creek, the Gallatin River and the headwaters of Black Butte Creek.
“We snowshoe and backpack a lot anyway, so it was great fun,” says Breck. “It was very surprising to me that there were microplastics in our blue-ribbon pristine streams.”
The types of microplastics being found in freshwater bodies ranges from beads, foams, films, fragments and fibers. According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the microplastics being found in rivers is 71% fibers – that being synthetic clothes and textiles, diapers, wipes, tampons, cigarette butts, nets and atmospheric deposition. Just washing a fleece sweatshirt can release millions of fibers into the waterways.
“It is largely pristine here and you don’t really see trash – just an occasional gum wrapper or can. We operate with the ‘pack it in, pack it out’ philosophy,” Breck says. “Being informed on microplastics and their origins has led me to think about the small things we can do to create change.”
Coming up for Bridger Brewing is expansion to a production facility on 250 acres of land outside of Bozeman with hopes for a large-scale music amphitheater. Both Breck and Kaderavek will be thinking about those ‘small things’ during the building process. Kaderavek, who has worked as an environmental biologist, sums up the thought process.
“I knew microplastics were an issue before I volunteered with Adventure Scientists, but it was a little mind-blowing to me that I was in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park, miles from the nearest trail in a seemingly pristine wilderness, yet there were microplastics in the water. I would tell people that there’s something every one of us can do right now to help with the plastic pollution issue. Whether it’s starting to recycle, carrying a reusable water bottle/coffee cup, using reusable bags when shopping or refusing single-use plastic such as straws. These are all small changes that are so, so easy to make but would have a huge impact if we all did it. From there, we need to continue to look at ways to lessen our impact, educate others, and support better environmental policy.”
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