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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Mar 15 2018

The Right Way and Wrong Way to Decide the Fate of Our Public Lands

Today the contrast became abundantly clear with poll showing strong support for Blackfoot Clearwater bill and collaboration

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Two things happened today that illustrate both the right way and the wrong way to decide the fate of the public lands we cherish.

The right way involves Senator Jon Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (S. 507), which would add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas, create and sustain recreation opportunities for snowmobilers and mountain bikers, safeguard hunting grounds and fisheries, and support forest restoration jobs. The bill has won support from timber, recreation, and conservation interests because it represents a careful compromise.

Today, Montana Wildlife Federation, in a telephone press conference with Senator Jon Tester, released a poll showing the broad support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA) among Montanans. 

The wrong way involves two bills (H.R. 5148 and H.R. 5149) introduced less than two weeks ago by Congressman Greg Gianforte stripping protection from more than 800,000 acres of treasured public lands across the state. These two bills represent the biggest rollback on public land protection in Montana history.

Today, we found out that Rep. Gianforte sent a letter to Congressional leaders on March 8th requesting they include his two anti-public lands bills in a legislative package attached to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill.  He made the request a mere seven days after introducing the bills.

The poll released today reveals:

  • 68 percent of Montanans support the BCSA and only 27 percent oppose 
  • 79 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans, and 63 percent of independents expressed support for the proposal
  • 75 percent of Montanans say they would be more likely to support a forest management plan developed through a collaborative approach, versus only 10 percent who would be less likely.
  • 85 percent of Montanans think that members of Congress should hold in-person town hall meetings to hear from the public about public land management issues.

The BCSA was hammered out over ten years by a diverse group of Montanans representing timber, ranching, conservation, outfitting, business, outdoor recreation, and other interests. The compromise, transparency, and abundant public input that went into the BCSA no doubt accounts for the bill’s popularity.  We are grateful to Sen. Tester for listening to Montanans and for championing this collaborative proposal in Congress. 

In stark contrast, Rep. Gianforte’s two bills opening 29 wilderness study areas (WSAs) to hard-rock mining, oil and gas development, and expanded motorized use were introduced without any public notice. 

At this point, it’s clear Congressman Gianforte is ignoring Montanans, who have come out loudly in opposition to his and Senator Daines’ bills.

Following the lead of Senator Steve Daines, Rep. Gianforte did not hold a single public meeting, town hall, or hearing before introducing his two bills. One of the bills is a companion bill to Sen. Daines’ S. 2206 targeting five WSAs managed by the Forest Service, including the Big Snowies, Middle Fork Judith, West Pioneers, Sapphire, and Blue Joint. The other bill targets 24 WSAs managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including the Centennials, Terry Badlands, and six areas within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

Rep. Gianforte haphazardly concocted these two bills in such a rush that he inadvertently included eight areas, covering nearly 120,000 acres, the BLM has found suitable for wilderness, then claimed all the WSAs in his bill hadn't been found suitable. He also included the Big Snowies WSA. The current draft plan for the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest currently proposes to recommend wilderness protection for the Big Snowies, which is wilder than 95 percent of all national parks.

Astonishingly, he’s now attempting to attach these extremely controversial bills to a must-pass piece of legislation without even holding a hearing in D.C.

At this point, it’s clear Congressman Gianforte is ignoring Montanans, who have come out loudly in opposition to his and Senator Daines’ bills.

Call Congressman Gianforte today at 1-855-935-3634. Remind him whom he works for and that we will not tolerate his ham-fisted handling of our public lands.

 - Casey Perkins, MWA Rocky Mountain Front field director