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Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 

Imagine what you could do with $972,000! What the federal government wants to do with it is subsidize the Stonewall timber sale and burning project, which will destroy about 5,000 acres of big game, lynx and grizzly bear habitat northwest of Lincoln in violation of federal laws.

$972,000 to destroy wildlife habitat on public land? Most Montanans believe the federal government should be spending taxpayer money protecting fish and wildlife habitat on public land, not destroying it – and there’s plenty of restoration work that needs to be done due to past logging damages.

Just to be clear, the $972,000 is what the Forest Service says in the Environmental Impact Statement that the federal government will lose on the timber sale.

The timber sale may well be bought by RY Timber of Townsend and Livingston, which is owned by the billionaire Yanke family from Boise, Idaho. RY Timber has been getting most of the timber from the Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest lately. $972,000 isn’t a lot of money to the federal government or a billionaire but it is a lot to you and me. So why should we spend almost a million taxpayer dollars destroying fish and wildlife habitat on public lands? After all, how much money does a billionaire need? Isn’t a billion dollars enough?

Much to its credit, wildlife biologists with Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks were so concerned that they wrote the Forest Service during the travel planning process for the Blackfoot area that “although elk populations have generally increased in hunting districts that include Helena National Forest land since adoption of the 1986 Forest Plan, the number of elk that spend summer and fall on the Lincoln Ranger District have not. … FWP recommends that land managers provide enough secure habitat during fall to meet annual bull survival objectives while maintaining general bull harvest opportunity. Neither public land populations nor bull ratios in the Lincoln valley have increased despite the near elimination of antlerless harvest opportunity and the adoption of spike-bull harvest restrictions.”

Montana’s big game management agency also warned that due to degraded habitat on public lands, elk are now spending more time on private lands, which causes conflict with land owners as well as increasing the difficulty of managing the herd size due to loss of hunting opportunities on public lands, writing: “The number of elk that spend the majority of the year on some nearby private lands has increased dramatically between 1986 and 2013. FWP has consistently urged the [Helena National Forest] to increase functional fall habitat security on the Lincoln Ranger District.”

For $972,000, Montana hunters are going to find fewer elk on public lands in the Lincoln Ranger District since they will flee to inaccessible private lands after the federal government has destroyed their habitat on public lands.

We think it makes no sense to sacrifice public elk, lynx, and grizzly bear habitat to subsidize the timber industry with nearly a million taxpayer dollars, which is why the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed suit in Federal District Court challenging the Stonewall Vegetation Project.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and a fifth generation Montanan.