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Home Wild Word Congressman Gianforte Votes to Forever Diminish the Bob Marshall, Absaroka-Beartooth, and Other Wilderness Areas
Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Dec 13 2017

Congressman Gianforte Votes to Forever Diminish the Bob Marshall, Absaroka-Beartooth, and Other Wilderness Areas

Today he voted for a bill that dramatically changes the Wilderness Act

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There are only a few places left in America – places like the Bob Marshall, Absaroka-Beartooth, Selway-Bitterroot, and Lee Metcalf – where an elk, a bear, or a trout is more surprised to see you than you are to see it. America’s wilderness areas are those final redoubts.

Those places are now at risk of being forever diminished. Today the House Natural Resources Committee passed House Resolution 1349, also known as the “wheels over wilderness” bill. This bill would alter the Wilderness Act to allow mechanized use in all designated wilderness areas, including 15 wilderness areas in Montana.

Congressman Greg Gianforte voted for it.

In so doing, he turned his back on Montana's time-honored backcountry values and traditions and on the places we hold so dear. He also turned his back on outfitters and guides, backcountry horsemen, hunters, anglers, hikers, backpackers, and even many mountain bikers who opposed this legislation, including the International Mountain Biking Association. All of these user groups oppose this bill because it harms our ability to find consensus over how we manage our public lands and fails to acknowledge that there's room on our public lands to accommodate mountain bikers and preserve the places that Montanans hold so dear.

Montana’s wilderness areas are what set the Treasure State apart from all others. Whether it’s the high ridges of the Cabinet Mountains or the low sand hills of Medicine Lake, these places are shielded from the trappings of every day life and preserved for generations to come. 

The impacts of H.R. 1349 reach far beyond the physical and social impacts of allowing bikes in our last wild places. H.R. 1349 pulls the rug from under past and current public land management agreements that have reached consensus from numerous interest groups over how we manage our public lands. One such agreement is Sen. Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, supported by backcountry horsemen, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, conservationists, and others. Because of its involvement in crafting this bill, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) submitted testimony in opposition to HR1349.

Supporters of the bill have deceived the public by making this bill about wheelchair access. Wheelchairs are already allowed in all wilderness areas and have been since an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990.
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Not a single opponent to H.R. 1349 was given the opportunity to speak, including outfitters, guides, and other small business owners whose lives and livelihoods could be upended if cyclists make wilderness travel too dangerous for stock parties. 

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Despite the rhetoric we’re hearing from the groups supporting this bill, bicyclists have access to a far greater number and variety of trails and landscapes than those seeking a wilderness experience. Here in the Forest Service’s Northern Region, which encompasses all of Montana, northern Idaho, and western North Dakota, 77 percent of all trail miles is open to mountain bikes. In contrast, just 23 percent of all Northern Region trails are in Wilderness status.

Knowing that the four public land managing agencies and members of the public would testify against the legislation for a number of reasons, Utah Congressman and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop did not allow any opposition witnesses to testify during the bill’s first hearing on December 7. Not a single opponent to H.R. 1349 was given the opportunity to speak, including outfitters, guides, and other small business owners whose lives and livelihoods could be upended if cyclists make wilderness travel too dangerous for stock parties.

This “wheels over wilderness bill” puts our last wild places on the chopping block along with our national monuments and wilderness study areas. With passage of HR 1349, vast landscapes requiring days, weeks, or months of exploration will shrink to long day rides and put what we value most – solitude and wildness – at risk.

For the last 60 years, Montanans have fought tooth and nail to safeguard some of America’s greatest wild backcountry, and Congressman Gianforte today dishonored that effort. 

 - John Todd, MWA conservation director