FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild

Late last week, the headline “Wild Horse Island wows visitors” greeted readers across Montana. The thrust of the article highlighted a tour by the Montana Preservation Alliance, conducted by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. While the island’s natural amenities and wildlife drew praise, missing was the reason Wild Horse Island is still a marvelous and wild place.

The story starts about 25 years ago when the 1993 Legislature was presented with a bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Raney, D-Livingston, that put a number of state parks under the protection of his Primitive Parks Act. Basically, the thought was that many Montanans appreciated visiting and camping in state parks that were not KOA-style, highly developed parks with paved camping pads, electrical hook-ups, waste dump stations and lights.

It’s worth noting that the House of Representatives had just flipped to a Republican majority and was led by a young speaker of the House, a Polson attorney named John Mercer, who rose to his position in no small part because of his skillful opposition to the Democrat majority in the 1991 session. In short, Mercer was no fan of Democrats, but when it came to Raney’s Primitive Parks bill, he not only saw the benefits in cost savings, but the opportunity to keep his much-loved Wild Horse Island essentially the same for his kids as it was for him.

In the case of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the agency enjoyed the risky authority granted it by the Legislature to generate its own revenue by charging citizens to enter, enjoy and camp in the publicly owned parks the agency administers. Unfortunately for Montanans, that meant it cost more to use the developed parks, which were subject to considerably more expensive development and maintenance costs as well as higher costs to fix damages by vandals. The result was a foreseeable continuing upward spiral of fees for Montanans to access and enjoy their own state parks.

Wild Horse Island was no exception to the aggressive development plans being hatched by the Parks Division, which had produced an inch-thick publication of projects the agency fully intended to implement.

Like so many of Montana’s publicly owned resources then and now, the push to commercialize our publicly owned recreational assets were and continue to be a driving factor in agency management. With about 10 million tourists rolling through Montana every year, the over-development and concurrent mass advertising often lead to “loving them to death” situations for public lands, including state parks. Garbage, shoreline erosion, noxious weed infestations, and impacts on natural vegetation and wildlife often characterize the resulting impacts. In short, the recreational resource is degraded in the attempts to reap ever more dollars from commercialization.

Speaker Mercer and Representative Raney knew this 25 years ago, which is why Wild Horse Island is listed first among the parks to receive the protections of the Primitive Parks law. Despite being from opposing political parties, the two men joined forces to overcome the resistance from Fish, Wildlife and Parks and pass the Primitive Parks bill into law, which not only preserved the parks, but eliminated entrance fees for Montanans.

So while it’s great to laud the wonderful naturalness of Wild Horse Island, it’s worth remembering that it primarily exists as an undeveloped park thanks to the foresight and combined efforts of those two legislators. They not only “saved” Wild Horse Island, but set a rare example of Republicans and Democrats working together for the benefit of Montana’s citizens instead of kow-towing to the almighty dollar, as do so many of our current politicians.

More articles by:

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail