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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Feb 14 2014

Where Would Montana Be Without Max?

Senator Max Baucus leaves a peerless conservation legacy behind as he accepts a new role as U.S. Ambassador to China


Thank you, Max.  And farewell.

Now that Senator Baucus is officially our new U.S. Ambassador to China, Montanans across the state are taking a longer look at the legislative legacy he leaves behind. 

Max will always be remembered for taking a politically calculated approach to hot-button issues of the day, such as health care reform, the tax code and foreign policy.  But, that’s not where Max left his biggest impression.

Forty years ago, Max was first elected to the House of Representatives. Nearly twenty years ago, he walked over 800 miles across Montana while running for Senate. In 2014, Max resigned as the longest-serving Senator ever from the state of Montana.

Along the way, he built an impressive conservation legacy, the likes of which we may never see again.

That legacy began with his first term in the House when he added 200 miles of the Flathead River watershed to the National Wild and Scenic River System. Early in his Senate tenure, he was key in designating the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, protecting over 250,000 acres of stunning backcountry in the Madison Range. 

More recently, Max made headlines by completing the Montana Legacy Project, a deal with Plum Creek Timber Company that transferred over 300,000 acres of private timberlands to public ownership. And of course, Max has long been a champion for the Rocky Mountain Front. In 2006, he protected hundreds of thousands of acres of the Front from energy development. In 2011, he introduced the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act to permanently protect 300,000 acres of wildlife habitat and to ensure recreational access for generations to come.

Senator Baucus fought to clean up communities like Libby. And he worked up until his final days in the Senate to pass the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which would protect more than 360,000 acres of land along the western boundary of Glacier National Park from mineral development.

Montanans think of all these places when considering Max’s legacy, but we often forget the positive impact he also had in my backyard of southwest Montana.

Baucus secured Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to protect priority lands in places like the Centennial Valley, Madison Valley and Taylor Fork.  He opposed the New World Mine and geothermal development on the border of Yellowstone National Park. In addition to the Lee Metcalf, Max also worked to pass legislation designating the 944,000-acre Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

In 1989, he secured an appropriation to acquire private timberlands on the northern end of the Gallatin Range. Later in the 1990’s, Max worked to pass legislation that consolidated nearly 100,000 acres of the Madison and Gallatin Ranges under public ownership. 

The list goes on.

Montanans know that some places are too important to lose without a fight. The borders of our national parks are too special for energy development and hard-rock mining. Our state’s communities are too important to leave in the hands of multi-national corporations. And Montanans favorite hunting and fishing grounds are too special to build up with roads and trophy homes. 

Max understood that, and he fought for those places with a determination Montanans have now come to expect. For that, we are all grateful. 

Thank you, Max.


- John Todd is Southwest Montana Wilderness Campaign Director for the Montana Wilderness Association.  He writes from Bozeman, MT.