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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Aug 08 2018

Gianforte Again Turns a Deaf Ear to Montanans

Twenty Ravalli residents walk out of hearing after congressman refuses to take local input on public lands

Featured, In the Media

Yesterday,  Congressman Greg Gianforte held a field hearing in Hamilton called “Wildfire Management and Response: Challenges and Opportunities.” Rep. Gianforte invited a Ravalli County commissioner, a Forest Service employee, and a forest fire consultant to speak. Numerous residents showed up hoping to also voice their concerns about wildfire and public land management in their backyards.

Just as the hearing was about to get started, former Ravalli County commissioner Jim Rokosch stood up and said to Rep. Gianforte, “I would like to ask you if you ever intend to hold a public hearing and listen to members of the public who would like to provide you input on matters of fire management and management of public resources like wilderness study areas.”

The congressman replied that he would not, stating “this is an official congressional hearing about wildfires.” That’s when 20 people, about a third of everyone at the hearing, walked out in protest and gathered on the lawn in front of the Ravalli County administrative office.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that Rep. Gianforte is locking Ravalli County residents out of this process,” says Frank Pelfry, an Army veteran and resident of Ravalli County who has been evacuated due to fire three times in the last nine years. “We all deserve input into how best to manage the fires that affect our communities and wild places, but unfortunately Rep. Gianforte is once again shutting Montanans out of decision-making processes that seriously affect our lives and livelihoods. That’s not democracy at work.”

Gianforte also refused to hold any public meetings or town halls before introducing legislation earlier this year stripping protection from over 800,000 acres of wilderness study areas (WSAs).

As the hearing proceeded, the 20 people who had walked out of the building began chanting, “listen to the people.” The windows of the room in which the hearing was taking place were promptly shut.
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It's time for Gianforte to remember that he answers to the people of Montana, and to start making good-faith efforts to listen to us. If he was serious about finding fire- and forest-management solutions for our communities, he would be welcoming local input, not shutting it out.

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At the close of the hearing (with his opposition out of the room), Gianforte mingled with the remaining audience.  Many of those Ravalli County residents who had walked out earlier returned and asked him when he was going to start actually holding public meetings around public lands.

Gianforte simply repeated himself saying, “I’m here now, what opinions do you want to express?”  

“I want public meetings that are going to go down on record,” said one Ravalli County resident.

"The impromptu exchange that occurred between Rep. Gianforte and Ravalli County residents regarding his wilderness study area legislation was no public meeting, as Gianforte tried to characterize it,” said Marilyn Wolff, a MWA member from Stevensville, after the meeting. “We asked him again and again when he was planning on holding a proper public meeting, and he refused to answer the question, again showing disdain for Montanans who want a say on public lands."

It's time for Gianforte to remember that he answers to the people of Montana, and to start making good-faith efforts to listen to us. If he was serious about finding fire- and forest-management solutions for our communities, he would be welcoming local input, not shutting it out.

- Anson Nygard, MWA public lands field organizer