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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Feb 17 2017

A Radical’s Wish List

Anti-public land legislator introduces resolution attacking some of Montana’s most beloved wildlands

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There’s a place high along the Gallatin Crest that holds an ancient treasure. You won’t find it on any maps, but it’s there. That hidden secret, and the landscape that keeps it, will be at grave risk if one legislator in Helena gets his way.

One August morning, two friends and I shouldered heavy packs just inside the Yellowstone Park boundary and started walking north out of the park. Our goal was to traverse the 150,000-acre Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area. If you stick to the shortest route, it’s a hike you can make in about three days – so we took five.

Somewhere along the way – I can’t say where – something caught my eye just off the trial. Half buried, I found a small arrowhead made from obsidian still sharp to the touch. I cleaned it with water, rolled it over in my hand, and then reburied in the soil of 9,500 feet.

The rest of the day I thought about that ancient hunter chasing elk, or maybe a mule deer, in the high country. It was a good reminder that these places are more than simply names on a map. They hold stories, sometimes mysteries.

Montana has 44 wilderness study areas, covering more than a million acres and encompassing some of Big Sky Country’s most stunning landscapes. They elevate our quality of life while contributing to our local economies. They provide important habitat for big game and other wildlife, support vital fisheries for downstream blue-ribbon streams, and offer world-class recreation opportunities. They are also critical sources of clean water for nearby communities.

But if Representative Kerry White has his way, these special places would all be put at risk.

A leading proponent of the scheme to transfer and privatize public lands across Montana, White introduced a joint resolution (HJ9) calling for the release of our state’s most prized wilderness study areas. If that occurred, the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn, West Pioneer, Blue Joint, Sapphire, Ten Lakes, Middle Fork Judith, and Big Snowies Wilderness Study Areas would all become vulnerable to development. Years of collaborative work by Montanans to help shape the future of these areas would also be laid to waste.


White’s wish-list resolution doesn’t stop at Montana’s borders. It also calls for the release of wilderness study areas in other states. Obviously, he hopes that by passing this resolution, he’ll embolden, and provide political cover to, fellow anti-public land radicals in D.C. who could introduce legislation that releases WSAs across the country.

The work of deciding how best to manage these special places is challenging, time-consuming, and requires balancing a diversity of needs and voices. It should not be done through one-size-fits-all edict out of Helena or Washington, D.C. 

Montanans across the state have been working for years to resolve land management issues through collaborative, place-based efforts that include the diverse voices of loggers, sportsmen, motorized and non-motorized users, conservationist, and other stakeholders. HJ 9 invites divisiveness into these local discussions and undermines more than a dozen collaborative, grassroots efforts ongoing across the state to find solutions for wilderness study areas and other public lands issues. These efforts are the best way to resolve the status of WSAs, not this top-down resolution.

This resolution is a threat to values Montanans across the political spectrum hold. More importantly, it’s an attack on the stories waiting to be told if you know where to look. 

- John Todd, MWA conservation director