Gianforte’s WSA Bills to Receive a Hearing in the House on Thursday
Now more than ever we need to raise our collective voice against the biggest rollback of protected land in state history
This Thursday, June 21, Congressman Greg Gianforte’s two wilderness study area bills, H.R. 5148 and 5149, will receive a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.
As we’ve been saying for the last several months, these two bills – along with Sen. Daines’ WSA bill, S. 2206 – represent the biggest rollback of protected public lands in our state history. These two bills would strip protection from 29 wilderness study areas – comprising more than 800,000 acres – across the state, from the Blue Joint in the west to the Terry Badlands in the east, from the Centennial Mountains in the southwest to Bitter Creek in the northeast. These bills could very well open these WSAs to mining, oil and gas development, and expanded motorized use.
That’s why it’s so important for you to now call Congressman Gianforte at 1-855-935-3634. Let him know that you want him to abandon both H.R. 5148 and H.R. 5149 and to take another approach to determine the future of our 44 wilderness study areas – a balanced, bipartisan approach that includes Montanans who benefit from, use, and cherish these areas.
The damage these bills could do to our community water supplies, our fish and wildlife populations, and our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy could be devastating. That’s not to mention what these bills would do the wilderness legacy that defines Montana and the outdoor way of life that makes living in this state so special.
Around a million acres of public lands have been recommended for Wilderness in Montana. We have been waiting for Congress to act on these recommendations for decades. Rather than leading the effort to determine which areas should be protected and which areas should be released for development, Congressman Gianforte is trying to convince Montanans that it is urgent to remove protection from WSAs without designating a single acre of new wilderness.
To make matters worse, Congressman Gianforte still hasn’t held a single public meeting to discuss these bills – not before or after introducing them. Except for a select group of people representing a few special interests, Montanans have been locked out of having a say on these bills. No wonder 81 percent of Montanans oppose this legislation, as was revealed last month in the University of Montana Public Lands Survey. No wonder a scant 11 percent of Montanans support it.
This poll also revealed that 97 percent of Montanans think it’s important that a wide range of stakeholders and local communities have the opportunity to provide input on this kind of legislation before decisions are made. Congressman Gianforte, like Senator Steve Daines, denied Montanans this opportunity.
Instead, they have been trying to sell Montanans a bill of goods about their bills, telling Montanans that these WSAs aren’t really wild – a blatantly false assertion that relies mostly on outdated BLM and Forest Service plans drafted decades ago.
As we know:
- Large portions of eight WSAs targeted in H.R. 5149, comprising more than 100,000 acres, have been found suitable for Wilderness by the BLM.
- The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest last week released its latest draft forest plan. Three out of five alternatives in the plan would recommend 95,299 acres of the Big Snowies for wilderness designation. Of the 95,299 acres, 87,968 fall within the WSA.
- Travis Belote, lead ecologist at The Wilderness Society, recently published a peer-reviewed analysis of the 29 wilderness study areas in Gianforte and Daines’bills. He found that 23 of the targeted 29 WSAs, including the Big Snowies, are of higher wildland quality than most national parks and existing wilderness areas across the country.
- The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest failed to even evaluate or consider the West Pioneer WSA or its portion of the Sapphire WSA for Wilderness Recommendation in its latest (2009) forest plan.
Again, please call Congressman Gianforte now at 1-855-935-3634 and tell him to listen to his constituents, who are overwhelmingly opposed to H.R. 5148 and 5149. Tell him that Montana is special precisely because of the Terry Badlands, the Big Snowies, the West Pioneers, the Centennials, and all the other places that could lose their wild character as a result of his two bills.
- Casey Perkins, MWA Rocky Mountain Field Director