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Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past

The Montana Wilderness Association enjoyed a proud history, with leaders and members of conviction and long ties to the land. We all looked up to Loren Kreck, Cecil Garland, Doris Milner and Clif Merritt. We listened to our elders, and learned from them.

From its inception through the 1980s MWA was a grassroots wilderness organization and worthy of our support. This changed in the late 1980s when, under political pressure, they removed Bill Cunningham, a consummate organizer who shepherded several Wilderness bills through Congress.

A troubling shift continued since the 1980’s when the U.S. became what Noam Chomsky called “a one-party system, the Capital Party,” the left and the right both “compromising” fundamental social and environmental justice, often under the guise of seductive terms like “collaboration,” which conceal the true state of affairs.

Sadly, MWA became part of “the Capital Party,” abandoning a loud, proud, and uncompromising voice for wilderness. The more politically expedient MWA has taken a greater influx of big money from sources such as the Pew Foundation that pushed for collaboration with the timber industry. In 1990 MWA unveiled the Lolo Accord, legislation concocted with the timber industry. It was a classic example of “ice and rocks” wilderness in exchange for roadbuilding and logging of 500,000 acres of roadless areas on the Lolo National Forest. After bitter debate, it was shot down by a stronghold of wilderness advocates who still fought exploitive power.

Undeterred, MWA entered collaborative deals with the timber industry affecting millions of acres of Montana roadless areas. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership got Sen. Jon Tester to include mandated logging targets. This controversial bill couldn’t pass Congressional muster.

But with seduction of Big Money, MWA became part of collaborationist deal-making on the Kootenai, Flathead, Lolo and Gallatin National Forests. They’ve become a highly paid tool of the timber industry, motorized/mechanized groups and elected officials. The collaborative MWA is working to weaken protections for wilderness and wildlife on our national forests. In fact, if not for the National Forest Roadless Rule, MWA may well have dealt away the better part of Montana’s roadless heritage.

In an effort to correct this trend, several former MWA Council and Executive Committee Members agreed to participate in the Council of Elders, to provide advice and leadership. For several years this Council was marginalized and had minimal effect on policy and was recently ended by MWA. They apparently realized they have no need for counsel from their elders, as they get their money and ideology elsewhere.

While we intend no offense to him personally, the fact MWA’s new executive director had never been to Montana until after being hired speaks volumes to how much MWA has changed. Personal knowledge of the land and people are undervalued. Fundraising is king.

What has befallen MWA in its ideological transformation and perhaps most troubling is that MWA has effectively become a politico-economic operation, reproducing recreationist and “shared-use” land values, advancing the agendas of elected officials and their timber and motorized-mechanized partners.

These developments lead us to conclude the Montana Wilderness Association, years down its compromise road, must be held accountable by its membership who must challenge an entrenched power structure within. Former MWA President Joseph Scalia, in 2015 Great Falls Tribune Guest Opinion, decried MWA’s ideological betrayal of guardianship of wild lands; since then, MWA has continued to refrain from the uncomfortable work of fighting one’s neighbor’s exploitations.

There are still fine conservation organizations that reject the misleading rhetoric put forth by the collaborationists. Montana Wilderness Association has not been one of them for some number of years now.

Joseph Scalia III, Livingston, and Paul Richards, Boulder, are past Presidents of the Montana Wilderness Association. Patty Ames, Cass Chinske and Lance Olsen, Missoula, Mike Jarnevic, Piltzville, Keith Hammer, Kalispell, George Wuerthner, Livingston, Larry Campbell, Darby, Steve Kelly, Bozeman, and Paul Edwards, Helena, are former members of the Montana Wilderness Association state council and Executive Committee.

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