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Oct 02 2014

Two wrongs don’t make a right

U.S. House passes H.R. 1526 (again) with zero input from Montanans

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In an act of political grandstanding before leaving town on recess, the U.S. House recently passed a package of bills (H.R. 4) – all of which had previously passed – including H.R. 1526, a bill strongly supported by Congressman Steve Daines.

The Montana Wilderness Association opposes H.R. 1526 for a long list of reasons described here. In short, H.R. 1526 would trade in our roadless backcountry for “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas,” eliminate safeguards for water and wildlife, and threaten our outdoor heritage with another cycle of boom-and-bust.

Passing this bill a second time only reaffirms the indifference that exists in the U.S. House for balanced forest management solutions. Nothing has changed since the first time H.R. 1526 passed the House in September last year. The bill remains a one-size-fits-all bill that could blanket over 14 million acres of Montana’s forests with “Revenue Areas.” 

Imagine that. With the stroke of a pen back in Washington, D.C., your favorite hunting grounds, fishing hole or camping spot could become a "Revenue Area" overnight. H.R. 1526 is a bill that would not only re-purpose our national forests but forever change our way of life here in Montana. 

By bringing this bill back to the floor, Congress had a second chance to get it right. They had another chance hear from Montanans back home where this bill hits hardest. Unfortunately, it was business as usual for a U.S. House with historically low approval ratings.

Last January, we sent a letter to Congressman Daines detailing our concerns. Our number one concern was that Congressman Daines was pushing a top-down bill to overhaul our national forests without any public process here in Montana. Despite several requests since then, we have yet to receive a meaningful response from the Congressman to these concerns.

Montanans enjoy something that other states lost long ago, wild country to wander freely and lots of it. The Treasure State has 6.4 million acres of roadless backcountry that provides secure habitat for elk and cold, clear water for our blue ribbon trout streams.

At a time when most Montanans are thinking less about politics and more about setting up elk camp and filling their freezer, Congressman Daines and the U.S. House passed H.R. 1526, for a second time, threatening to eliminate 5.6 million acres of Montana’s roadless areas. That’s 88% of Montana’s roadless backcountry on the chopping block if H.R. 1526 were to pass both houses of Congress.

Here's a map that clearly illustrates how these radical changes would look on a Montana map.

If signed into law, gone are years of hard work by business owners, sportsmen and conservationists to craft collaborative solutions to keep sawmills running while also protecting our watersheds. Gone are the hunting and fishing grounds we should be passing on to the next generation of Montanans. And gone is that which sets Montana apart from other states: our roadless backcountry to hunt, fish and hike by day and camp quietly under the stars at night.

All of this would be gone without one meeting here in Montana. No town halls. Not even a listening session. Montanans deserve better. And Congressman Daines should know better.

Our national forests certainly face real problems begging for solutions. That’s why everyday Montanans continue a long tradition of putting aside past differences, rolling up their sleeves and working together on the issues facing our public lands.

Just in the last few weeks, the Montana Wilderness Association has seen two important forest projects get the green light - the Chessman Project and the Colt Summit Project - because of nose-to-the-grindstone, collaborative efforts. We know if solutions are to be successful then they have to be homegrown.

Please contact Congressman Daines today. Let him know that the future of our national forests and public lands are in much better hands if Congress takes the time to listen to Montanans.

 

John Todd is the Southwest Montana Field Director for the Montana Wilderness Association. He writes from Bozeman, MT.