Montana Legend: Publisher Dale Burk
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Stoneydale Press publishing legend Dale Burk passed away Sept. 16, 2020 in his Stevensville home at age 83. With his passing, Montana lost a larger-than-life figure whose passion for Montana’s wilderness drove nearly everything he did, including his writing, which paved the way for the protection of wilderness areas in Montana and beyond.
Dale Burk grew up in Northwest Montana and spent his childhood hunting and fishing. His father was a gyppo logger, and several of his family members worked as camp cooks, including his grandmother, who impressed upon Burk that nature should be left “untrammeled.”
Burk’s daughter Rachel Burk says “untrammeled” would later embody a philosophy Dale would carry throughout the rest of his life.
Inspired by his journalism teacher Donald Boslaugh from Eureka, Dale Burk set his sights on writing, becoming editor of his high school newspaper in Eureka. He would later work for the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, as a correspondent with the U.S. Navy, and at the Missoulian.
In 1975, he became the first Montanan to receive a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University.
What put Burk on the map was his 1969 reporting on the so-called “Bitterroot Controversy,” the U.S. Forest Service’s mismanagement of the Bitterroot National Forest, which supported the timber industry at the peril of the surrounding wilderness.
Burk’s reporting on the issue is often credited with helping to pave the way for the 1976 National Forest Management Act. It’s also what sent him undercover on a backpacking trip to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, where he met outfitter and conservationist Smoke Elser.
“Dale had a personality that you could not resist,” said Elser, adding that Burk’s writing had the power to move hearts and minds. “That’s because of the way he wrote and the way he interpreted the wilderness to the average man on the street.”
Burk was also active in Montana’s conservation scene.
He was the fourth member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a member of the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association. In 2018, he was inducted into the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame and was also a member of the Montana Conservation Elders. In recent years, Burk and Elser spoke at the Bitterroot Youth Conservation and Education Expo.
Friend and fellow conservationist Wayne Chamberlin says Burk wasn’t against logging – indeed, he came from a logging family. Instead, his work was driven by his deep connection to the outdoors.
After leaving the Missoulian, Burk continued to work as a writer and photographer. He partnered with his brother Stoney Burk in 1978 to launch Stoneydale Press. With the help of Burk’s wife Patricia, the press produced around 300 works, ranging from hunting books and memoirs to children’s books.
Rachel Burk, who started working at the press at age 11, says she hopes to keep Stoneydale going and to continue the kind of work her father loved. Burk published his last book, “A Wild Land Ethic: The Story of Wilderness in Montana,” in 2020. Chamberlin co-edited the book, a 328-page conservation anthology featuring 30 photographers and over 40 authors, including former Gov. Steve Bullock, conservationist and author Jim Posewitz, and Smoke Elser.
Chamberlin says he learned a lot from his friend.
“Dale was an accomplished and skillful and talented writer and journalist, ” he said, adding that Burk’s humble origins enabled him to connect with people from all walks of life.
“He had respect for other people. He listened to what they had to say,” Chamberlain said.