The Antidote to the Anti-Public Lands Movement:
Finding common ground and working together
Featured, Partners in Conservation
It’s been near impossible to miss the headlines lately about armed extremists and radical politicians trying to destroy our national public lands legacy. From Washington, D.C. to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, selfishness and delusional interpretations of the U.S Constitution have come together in support of a disastrous agenda aimed squarely at one thing: taking national public lands away from the American people.
Forget dismantling the laws that protect our public lands. Just take the American people right out of the equation by handing these lands over to private enterprise. While public lands management has never been perfect, it is hard to imagine a more cynical and disastrous agenda for our nation’s outdoor heritage.
But neither the armed militants at Malheur nor the suited lands transfer proponents in D.C. ever anticipated how much the American people, Westerners in particular, value public lands. In January, Colorado College released its sixth-annual bipartisan Conservation in the West Poll, showing that Western voters (including Montanans) see national public lands as integral to our economy and way of life and overwhelmingly oppose efforts to weaken and seize public lands. The poll also revealed that westerners strongly support people working together to find common-ground solutions to public land challenges, and herein lies the antidote to the blustering and divisive anti-public lands movement.
Community-driven collaboratives not only result in the protection of wild places, they also nourish our nation’s democracy and further our public lands legacy.
The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project (BCSP) and the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition (KFSC) are two homegrown examples of diverse collaboratives that demonstrate the power of people putting their differences aside to craft solutions that meet a spectrum of needs.
In 2015, the BCSP celebrated 10 years of restoring a watershed that provides essential habitat for grizzly bears, bull trout, elk, mountain goats, and other key species. In addition to promoting outdoor recreation and providing opportunities for forest restoration, the BCSP has proposed designating 87,000 acres of wilderness additions to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountain Wilderness Areas.
Similarly, the KFSC in northwestern Montana has overcome 30 years of intense local conflict over management of the Kootenai National Forest and unified around an agreement that includes more than 180,000 acres of wilderness designation – doubling the size of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness and keeping the Scotchman Peaks and Yaak Valley roadless areas forever wild.
Finding common ground and seeking solutions with timber mills, snowmobilers, outfitters, mountain bikers, and other public land users is a challenging endeavor, but it’s something MWA is committed to doing and has been doing since its beginning in 1958. Without this kind of community-driven collaboration, there would be no Bob Marshall, no Beartooth-Absaroka, no Selway-Bitterroot, or any other designated wilderness area in Montana for us to experience the wild as nature intends.
Let’s combat the militants in Oregon and the lands transfer radicals in Helena and D.C. by continuing our tradition of working together as a community and finding solutions to our public land challenges that includes protecting special places for all Americans.
- Brian Sybert, MWA executive director