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Home Wild Word Rep. Zinke Votes to Develop Wilderness Areas
Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Mar 02 2016

Rep. Zinke Votes to Develop Wilderness Areas

Congressman’s position at odds with the 78% of Montanans who value wilderness

Alerts, Featured

On February 26, Rep. Ryan Zinke voted for a bill to allow any government entity – local, state, or federal – to build roads and allow motorized vehicles on American public lands currently protected as Wilderness areas. He cast this vote in spite of the fact that an overwhelming majority of Montanans value wilderness.

As a 2014 University of Montana poll shows, 78% of Montanans think that wilderness is a good thing for our state. And as a recent Colorado College poll shows, 77% of Montanans believe protecting natural areas for future generations is “very important.” With numbers like these demonstrating how much Montanans prize the Bob Marshall, the Absaroka-Beartooth, the Bitterroot-Selway, and other wilderness areas, it’s apparent that Rep. Zinke has not served the interests of Montanans with this vote.


The bill he voted for, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreation Enhancement Act (H.R. 2406), passed the House of Representatives on a mostly party-line vote of 242 to 161. The deceptively named bill purports to maintain existing access for hunting, fishing, and shooting sports on public lands. The legislation is, however, a classic bait and switch. It contains provisions that would allow a variety of public agencies to build temporary roads, construct dams, or advance commercial logging in designated wilderness areas under the pretense of improving “access” for sportsmen and women.

This deceptive approach didn’t work when the bill was introduced in 2014. It died that year in the Senate after passing the House. We hope it meets the same fate again this year.

In the Senate, Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines have co-sponsored a very different version of this bill, the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015. (S.405), which doesn’t threaten our last best places or put our wilderness heritage at risk.

Thankfully, Montana hunters and anglers know a bad bill when they see one, and they tend to take issue with those who believe roads would “enhance” the Anaconda-Pintlers or the Scapegoat. Every year Montana has one of the highest per capita rates of resident hunters in the country, and MWA represents thousands of those sportsmen and women within our membership. We work hard to protect their outdoor traditions every day, and we ardently oppose efforts to build roads in any of our 15 wilderness areas, which together represent some of the finest wildlife habitat and cleanest waters in the United States.

We hope Rep. Zinke will reconsider his position on H.R. 2406 and join the people he represents by supporting wilderness conservation in the future.

We encourage him to work with the rest of our Congressional delegation to advance Montana-made ideas with strong support back home, including community-driven collaborative solutions such as the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders agreement and the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project. Montanans have a habit of working together that’s hard to break, and these ground-up efforts deserve a champion in the U.S. House.


- John Todd, MWA conservation director