The Montana congressional delegation deserves an F for failure in public process in their separate public lands bills. Partisan politics has once again infected the public lands debate with an overdose of cynicism and self-serving rhetoric.
Sen. Steve Daines ginned up phony meetings with sympathetic county commissioners to justify his bill to release more than a half million acres of Wilderness Study Areas on national forests in Montana. He held no field hearings nor did he seek public input.
Rep. Greg Gianforte not only introduced the Daines' bill in the House, he introduced his own bill that would release WSAs on Bureau of Land Management lands with the same lack of public input or accountability.
Sen. Jon Tester’s bill would designate a small amount of wilderness but isn’t much better. It slices the prime Monture elk habitat area in half and contains provisions to limit environmental review and strip the rights of the public to challenge planned timber sales. The overriding purpose of his bill is to provide steady timber production for the mill in Seeley Lake.
Each of our congressional representatives turned to a select few supporters to shape their public lands legislation. In each case, exclusion equals collusion.
These bills substantially circumvent and usurp the national forest and BLM planning processes, which would ordinarily have full public input. For example, many national forests in Montana are in the process of forest plan revision, including wilderness recommendations to Congress. The BLM has undertaken a similar process. Our delegation is conveniently relying on outdated recommendations from 30 years ago, while the world, and our scientific understanding of it, have changed significantly.
Under the guise of access to public lands, the true purpose of the wilderness release bills is to provide access to our public wild places to corporate contributors. It’s rev up the saws, drills, dredges and excavators because our delegation seems hell-bent on giving away the public store.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of Montanans who were not privy to the meetings and deal-making are being left behind. This same majority supports protection of our remaining public roadless areas and best fish and wildlife habitat.
Each loss of our public roadless areas is an incalculable blow to Montana’s wildlife and wildlands heritage. The delegation’s lack of appreciation for this world-class resource and lack of respect for the public process is unacceptable.
Our delegation needs to put their bills aside and keep election year partisan politics out of this debate. Then bring the issue before all Montanans and the American people in the spirit of open, democratic process. We all own these lands. Why should we allow their future to be determined by a select, politically-connected few?