Colonizing Montana Wilderness in 2022

Technology and machines encroach into rural homes, schools and businesses, changing the private and public values that have long defined quality of life in Montana. Fragments of virgin forest fall to man’s replacement, expensive, more powerful machines.

Local, year-round residents in towns like Seeley Lake and Lincoln have always struggled to make ends meet. Local businesses always worked hard just to keep their heads above water. Life in Montana has always been a struggle to survive; it makes us smile.

Lately, political operatives with fancy titles and university degrees in political science and social engineering are now trying to sell Montanans a fable that these isolated communities were once thriving mining and logging towns.  According to Webster’s, to thrive is “to grow vigorously, flourish or to gain in wealth or possessions: prosper.”  My question to these (self-appointed) superior intellectuals: Is that so?

Using their “superior intellect” and revisionist history as a political battering ram, these modern-day settlers/trust-funders polarize communities by creating anxiety and chaos. Like any good pitchman selling “product,” they have a ready-made solution.  Divide and conquer is their game, colonization, enslavement and plunder their aim.

To experience true wild country, or to catch a wild trout or observe wildlife in its native habitat are treasured values most Americans lost long ago.  Montana is being overrun by wealthy newcomers and tourists who desire a little of what Montanans have always had in abundance.  Quality of life can’t be measured only in dollars and cents.

Thousands of commenters who oppose the Holland Lake Lodge expansion by categorical exclusion clearly see how this loophole is being abused widely to benefit a few “chosen people.”

The Lincoln Prosperity Proposal and Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (Sen. Jon Tester’s wilderness-plunder bill) promise the “good life” through expanded commercial exploitation and domestication.  Clearcutting de facto wilderness backcountry and overrunning local roads and trails with sprinter vans, mountain bikes fragments rural community.

Tester’s bill is a deregulation bill with contempt for public participation and sound environmental analysis. Restoration is logging, pure and simple. The poison pill embedded in Tester’s Blackfoot bill is the expanded, codified use of categorical exclusions. 

Bulldozing new logging roads fragments the roadless landscape. If restoration logging is excluded from NEPA review, Tester’s frontal attack on citizen enforcement and judicial review will succeed.

Seeley Lake’s backcountry is currently protected by the Clinton-era Roadless Rule.

The Lincoln Prosperity proposal reclassifies roughly 70,000 acres for expedited “forest restoration” near Lincoln. Legislating “greater management flexibility” is a recipe for forest plunder. Don’t be fooled, restoration means NEPA-exempt logging.

Three “conservation areas” totaling 63,000 acres, are reserved for enhanced conservation, or more specifically, play areas for mountain bikers on high-elevation trails.  Subtract 63,000 acres.

One more subtraction is needed to account for the 10,600 roadless acres (de facto wilderness) reserved for ATVs, dirt biking play areas.

By my calculation, that amounts to 70,000 + 63,000 + 10,600=143,600 acres subtracted from 200,000 acres of existing Inventoried Roadless Lands.  All 143,600 acres of small “w” wilderness will be converted to accommodate motorized recreation and mountain biking, including e-bikes — a staggering loss.

Most supporters of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act legislation and Lincoln Prosperity think they’re supporting wilderness protection. Neither initiative protects wilderness characteristics or wildlife habitat values in Inventoried Roadless Areas. Neither preserves Montana’s quality of life.

To avoid self-inflicted harm to Montana values, why not consider supporting a more holistic option? The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA), protects all IRAs in the five-state Wild Rockies bioregion. 

Steve Kelly is a an artist and environmental activist. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.