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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Aug 17 2018

Steve Daines Wants More Airplanes in the Bob Marshall

Fortunately, the senator’s request to develop eight airstrips in “the Bob” crashes and burns


Sen. Steve Daines - he of the attacks on wilderness study areas (WSAs) and general disregard for the opinions of the public - recently outdid himself in high-flying fashion.

On June 15, the Senator wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting that he open eight airstrips throughout the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Just let that sink in - Senator Daines officially requested that eight airstrips, all of which have been abandoned with no public outcry since the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, be redeveloped and opened so eight times as many planes can land in the heart of the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear Wilderness Areas.

Thankfully, Sec. Perdue did not give Daines permission for take off. This week, we learned that on July 18, the Secretary denied Daines’ request in a letter that included the following rationale:

“The remaining airstrips you mention have not been maintained or used by fixed-wing aircraft since the Complex's Wilderness designation in 1964. These airstrips were not in public use at the time of the Wilderness designation. Therefore; our management intent is to maintain closure of the airstrips to naturally restore and blend into the landscape. While they are used sparingly for emergency-fire operations for rotator aircraft, fixed-wing aircraft cannot safely use them. These emergency use landing areas are not included on our maps, and are no longer considered backcountry airstrips for potential use or inventory purposes.”


The whole episode is troubling, and reinforces Sen. Daines’ long-standing desire to increase motorized traffic on public lands, his lack of respect for our Wilderness areas, his disregard for the facts, and his dangerous habit of evading public opinion. 

In one short letter, the Senator confirmed:

  • That he has little respect for the crown jewel of America’s Wilderness lands
  • That he has little understanding of the Wilderness Act and existing National Forest management within wilderness areas 
  • That he prefers to make big decisions by administrative fiat 
  • That the opinion of small groups of people - or in this case, a single organization - is sufficient justification for developing lands that belong to all Americans 

The Senator’s request demonstrates that he thinks he knows best, and the experiences of people who love and depend on wild places aren’t worth considering. These airstrips haven’t been maintained or used by fixed-wing planes since prior to 1964, yet he believes opening them would provide “needed public access” into the heart of one of the nation’s premier Wilderness Areas, a place where solitude, wildlife habitat, and “the hush of the land”, in the words of legendary Scapegoat outfitter Tom “Hobnail” Edwards, rule.

Sounds like the Senator prefers the buzz of aircraft to the wild hush treasured by generations of outfitters, hunters and anglers, and backpackers and campers, and to the outdoor heritage that defines our way of life. 

We’re pleased Secretary Perdue feels otherwise, and we’re grateful to him for staying with our existing flight plan: a beautiful wilderness complex that is accessible from countless trailheads, several wild rivers, and just one backcountry airstrip at Schafer Meadows.

- Gabe Furshong, MWA deputy director