The Northern Rockies Ecosystem is unique. Our wildlands support all the fish and wildlife species present when Lewis & Clark passed through. This abundant resource is what sustains a five-week hunting season, angling for native trout and unparalleled opportunities for solitude. It is the foundation for Montana’s $7 billion dollar outdoor industry, attracting visitors by the millions.
This national treasure is anchored by our roadless areas. Numerous scientific studies have found roadless areas provide the best habitat for elk, the best water quality, and most secure habitat for threatened species including grizzly bear, bull trout and lynx.
Unfortunately, Senator Jon Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act would permanently diminish this resource. Most notably, Tester’s bill would cut the Monture roadless area in half, dedicating the center to snowmobile and mountain bike play areas within an important part of the Bob Marshall country.
Poet Maya Angelou said, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them.” The collaborationist supporters who wrote the bill drape themselves in conservation but show a different agenda. Loren Rose, Chief Operating Officer of Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company and a leader of the collaborationists said, “Everyone who collaborates does so with the expectation they will get something out of it. We got logs on trucks. Our conservation partners got very little out of this Southwest Crown of the Continent work.” Tester’s own electronic propaganda states timber first.
No less alarming, the bill usurps the Forest Service planning process and gives it to a small handful of self-selected people, the “collaborators” who wrote the bill. It also includes a process called “categorical exclusion” whereby timber sales up to 3,000 acres do not have to go through full environmental analysis and public involvement. Public challenges based on environmental concerns are blocked. In a plan to string together several such sales, the collaborators have conspired to limit public involvement and environmental laws on tens of thousands of acres of public lands on the Lolo National Forest. This is wrong and fundamentally undemocratic.
The National Forest Management Act does not have a fill in the blank section to “provide a steady supply of timber to Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company,” or any other company or individual. We can be sympathetic to the fate of the small logger while acknowledging there is no obligation for our National Forests to guarantee continued employment or profit to anyone.
Nor are the collaborators politically astute. This is the worst time to advance legislation. The naïve and gullible are enabling politicians to play election year games with our national roadless resource. Elections are for election season, the land is for all of time.
By contrast, the gold standard for fish and wildlife conservation is the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, S.936 and H.R.2135. This citizen plan is inspired by conservation biology, bestowing the protection our region richly deserves and which our fish, wildlife and regional economy depend upon. Rather than further fragmenting and isolating our wildlife habitat and roadless areas, it would work to reconnect them, employing people with good jobs in the process.
The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act has gained the endorsements of leading scientists, including the late Dr. John J. Craighead, legendary grizzly bear scientist and naturalist, who testified before Congress.
It’s time for Senator Tester to announce he’s keeping election year politics out of the public lands debate. Our public lands don’t deserve to be political pawns. If reelected, it’s his responsibility to roll up his sleeves to meet and listen to all interested parties, not just those who agree with him. The Northern Rockies, and the American people, deserve no less.
Mike Bader is an independent consultant in Missoula. He was centrally involved in crafting The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act and he authored a professional analysis of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.
Mike Garrity is Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies in Helena.