A 2019 decree by the government of Montenegro sets forth the country’s intention to set up a military training ground in the highland grasslands of Sinjajevina in the northern part of the country.But the pastures of Sinjajevina have supported herders for centuries, and scientists say that this sustainable use is responsible in part for the wide array of life that the mountain supports; activists say an incursion by the military would destroy livelihoods, biodiversity and vital ecosystem services.A new coalition now governs Montenegro, one that has promised to reevaluate the military’s use of Sinjajevina.But with the country’s politics and position in Europe in flux, the movement against the military is pushing for formal designation of a park that would permanently protect the region’s herders and the environment. Mileva “Gara” Jovanović’s family has been taking cattle up to graze in Montenegro’s Sinjajevina Highlands for more than 140 summers. The mountain pastures of the Sinjajevina-Durmitor Massif are the largest on Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, and they’ve provided her family not only with milk, cheese, and meat, but with an enduring livelihood and the means to send five of her six children to university. “It gives us life,” said Gara, an elected spokesperson for the eight self-described tribes who share the summer pasture. But, Gara says, this alpine pasture — “the Mountain,” she calls it — is under serious threat, and with it the tribes’ way of life. Two years ago, Montenegro’s military moved ahead with plans to develop a training ground where soldiers would carry out maneuvers and artillery practice in these grasslands. No stranger to the daunting challenges of life as an alpine herder, Gara said that when she first heard of the military’s plans, it brought her to tears. “It’s going to destroy the Mountain because it’s impossible to have both the military polygon there and cattle,” she told Mongabay. A map showing the approximate location of the proposed military polygon in the Sinjajevina pasturelands. Image courtesy of Pablo Domínguez (inset courtesy of Google Earth Engine). Anthropologists who have studied the region say that pastoralists have been bringing their herds to the Sinjajevina grasslands for around 3,000 years. Now, Gara fears that the military’s use of the land will utterly disrupt the current natural balance that 250 local families have carefully cultivated. The tribes are all part of the same ethnic group, and they meet periodically to discuss the management of the pasturelands. Thanks to their nurturing efforts, verdant grasses carpet the Mountain each spring that feed not only their cattle, sheep and horses. The long-sustained partnership between natural and human communities also engenders a unique and richly specied landscape, while snowmelt flowing down from Sinjajevina supplies Montenegro with water and supports its human population. “Maintaining a diversity of uses and practices up there is helping conserve some very valuable stuff,” Pablo Domínguez, an environmental anthropologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Toulouse, told Mongabay. Milan Sekulović, who leads the Save Sinjajevina Association, with a horse on Sinjajevina Mountain. Image courtesy of Milan Sekulović. The battle over Sinjajevina’s future — whether it remains a rare example of nature coexisting alongside humanity, or becomes a proving ground for kitted-out troops and heavy artillery — has embroiled not just Gara, the eight tribes, and the government of a small Balkans nation; it may also figure significantly into the global geopolitics of NATO and the European Union. To many, including Gara, the two paths are incompatible. That stance led to a 51-day protest in late 2020. Around 150 farmers and activists camped on the Mountain in the fall, blocking the military’s deployment with little more than their presence and sheer determination. For now, at least, they’ve succeeded, coinciding with a seismic, generational political shift in Montenegro. Today, the challenge that preservation proponents like Gara and Domínguez face is to parlay this ephemeral triumph into permanent protections for Sinjajevina and its people.