Category Archives: Commentary

George Wuerthner: Wildlands are of global significance

Here’s an excellent guest column in the Flathead Beacon by George Wuerthner discussing the importance of reserving wilderness areas and listing several in this corner of Montana still in need of protection . . .

The announcement by Montana Sen. Jon Tester that he would be introducing legislation to protect approximately 80,000 acres in the Blackfoot Clearwater area adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness is to be commended. I have personally hiked all the areas included in this legislation and can attest to its important to the ecological integrity of the larger Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

The Monture drainage with its wonderful larch forests that glow golden in the autumn, and the North Fork of the Blackfoot with its deep emerald pools holding exceptional bull trout and cutthroat trout populations are both critical gateways to the larger Bob Marshall complex.

The Grizzly Basin portion of the Swan is the critical scenic backdrop to the Seeley-Swan highway and the West Fork of the Clearwater segment is a needed wildlands connection corridor between the Mission Mountains and Swan Range.

What Tester, and those supporting the legislation, recognize is that Montana’s wildlands are of global significance. These patches of self-willed landscapes are critical to ensuring the continued survival of many wildlife species, carbon storage, watershed protection, and the source for inspiration.

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Rob Breeding: Americans like their public lands public

Lake in Flathead National Forest
Lake in Flathead National Forest

The Flathead Beacon has a persuasive op-ed by Rob Breeding concerning the public lands transfer movement . . .

So far 2017 hasn’t been a great year for those who want to transfer federal public lands to the states, beginning an inevitable process of turning these public lands over to private hands.

That may seem counter intuitive as the anti-public lands crowd is on the ascendancy politically. Sometimes in politics, however, it’s better to have an issue you can use to rally supporters and fuel fundraising campaigns, rather than be in a position to enact policy to change the situation you’ve been railing against.

So it goes for the opponents of public lands. After the 2016 election they seemed closer than ever to their goal. What these politicians don’t seem to get is the people they represent do not share their anti-public land zealotry.

There may be a bit of political buyers’ remorse here.

Continue reading Rob Breeding: Americans like their public lands public

NYT: Public Lands in Private Hands?

Three Types of Public Lands
Three types of public lands: Flathead National Forest is in the foreground, left and right; Montana’s Coal Creek State Forest, including Cyclone Lake, is in the middle distance; Glacier National Park stretches across the background.

Jimmy Tobias, currently an environmental reporter and, for three summers, a trail crew worker in this corner of the country, has a strongly worded op-ed in the New York Times regarding public lands transfer . . .

The Senate’s confirmation this week of the former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke as secretary of the interior has revived concerns about the future of public lands in the Trump administration. While Mr. Zinke has branded himself as a Teddy Roosevelt-style conservationist — and resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention last year to protest the party’s support for transferring federal lands to states or private groups — his record is spotty…

My generation and those that follow have much at stake in this battle. We stand to lose our ability to hike and camp, to bike and boat, to hunt and fish and explore freely in these superlative places. We also stand to lose the opportunities for meaningful work, civic engagement and spiritual fulfillment that our public lands provide…

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Can you be friends with a bear?

Grizzly Bear - Thomas Lefebvre, via Unsplash
Grizzly Bear – Thomas Lefebvre, via Unsplash

Can you be friends with a bear? This brings to mind a famous line from the original “Indiana Jones” movie: “You go first.”

Still, someone asked the geeks at Gizmodo (of all places!) this question. They, in turn, asked a number of experts for comments and put together a surprisingly interesting article.

Mild spoiler: Shannon Donahue, Executive Director of the Great Bear Foundation, wrote the best, most elegant answer . . .

Late last year, a photo of a bear officiating a wedding in Russia went viral. The picture turned out to be fake, but its popularity says something significant about our conception of the species: Despite thousands of years of contrary evidence, and at least one harrowing documentary, human beings still on some level want to view bears as big, cuddly, forest-dwelling dogs.

Are we wrong to feel this way? Can a human and a wild bear have anything approaching a pet-like, or at least, non-lethal relationship? The example of Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell, of course, haunts this line of questioning. But the experts we spoke with—people who have studied bears, lived among them, and worked to conserve their natural habitats—would reject the idea that any kind of bear-human bond will inevitably end in bloodshed. More or less all agree that every bear is a wild bear—that even if it playfully nuzzles you, or spends twenty years riding a tiny bicycle in your traveling circus, the odds of it suddenly mauling and/or eating you alive remain high. But opinions differ on just how close our two species can get, and what “closeness” can really mean, when you’re dealing with a thousand-plus-pound forest creature.

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House vote poses threat to public lands

Three Types of Public Lands
Three types of public lands: Flathead National Forest is in the foreground, left and right; Montana’s Coal Creek State Forest, including Cyclone Lake, is in the middle distance; Glacier National Park stretches across the background.

Here’s a pointed discussion of Rep. Zinke’s vote in favor of a House rules change that would ease the transfer of public lands out of federal control . . .

Keeping federal public lands public is a big issue in Montana and the West. It’s an issue that Rep. Ryan Zinke campaigned on in his successful bid for re-election. In his first term, Zinke frequently described himself as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, strongly committed to protecting and preserving public lands owned by the people of the United States.

He stated unequivocally that he is against the transfer of federal public lands to states. States such as Montana are rich in public land but lack the staff to manage our priceless American heritage. One concern about the land transfer movement is that cash-strapped states would turn around and sell the land.

So after Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, tucked a provision in the House Rules bill that could make land transfer legislation easier to pass, we expected that Zinke would have something to say about it. The House approved the rules package 233-190 with the Bishop provision that exempts any future land transfers from the budget scrutiny that otherwise must be given to bills that would reduce U.S. revenue or increase U.S. spending. Zinke was among the GOP majority voting for the rules package on Tuesday, the first Congressional work day of 2017.

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Greg Zimmerman: Extreme views don’t represent most Montanans on public lands

Three Types of Public Lands
Three types of public lands: Flathead National Forest is in the foreground, left and right; Montana’s Coal Creek State Forest, including Cyclone Lake, is in the middle distance; Glacier National Park stretches across the background.

This well-written op-ed concerning public lands transfer was posted in today’s Flathead Beacon. It is written by Greg Zimmerman, deputy director at the Center for Western Priorities. Interestingly, he quotes incoming President Trump as also opposing the transfer of federal lands to the states . . .

In her recent op-ed, Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder continued to perpetuate phony myths about American public lands in an attempt to prop up her naive attempts to dispose of them.

According to Sen. Fielder, Montana’s public lands are a trash dump, filled with pests and fenced off to the public. In her telling, the only thing that can save our public lands is for them to be given to the state.

Don’t tell that to the hundreds of thousands of Montanans streaming across the state’s public lands to hunt and fish, who certainly aren’t buying Sen. Fielder’s premise. On the contrary, public opinion research shows unequivocally that Montana voters value national public lands. And poll after poll shows that Montanans – like voters across the West – have little appetite for her misguided plans to “transfer” American lands to state or private interests.

This month’s election result further validates what the polls have been telling us for years.

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Remembering the Craigheads, pioneers of wildlife biology

The New Yorker has a first-rate retrospective on the Craigheads. Thanks to Monica Graff and Patti Craig-Hart for passing this along . . .

At dawn on Sunday, September 18th, a blanket of clouds hung over the tawny grass mountainsides around Missoula, Montana. The cottonwoods had begun to turn yellow. On the south edge of town, in the home that the retired wildlife biologist John Craighead had occupied with his wife, Margaret, for six decades, the couple’s daughter, Karen, had been sleeping only intermittently. For years, she had shared the care of her aged parents with her younger brother, Johnny, a commitment that carried the two of them and their elder brother, Derek, well into their own senior years. During the previous night, Karen had risen, as she always did, to look in on their parents. She found them both sleeping peacefully. But by morning, when she and Johnny checked again, their father had died. It was a month after his hundredth birthday.

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Rebecca Powell: Slow the roll of bikes in the wilderness

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

Rebecca Powell of Columbia Falls has an excellent op-ed making the rounds regarding bicycling in wilderness areas. It has appeared in the Hungry Horse News and in the Flathead Beacon so far . . .

By now you have probably heard from both sides of the debate on allowing mountain bikes into federally designated Wilderness. They are too fast, they will scare my horse, bikers play loud rap music. On the other side, bikers argue that they are low impact, human powered and can bring much needed funding for trail maintenance in these areas. Both arguments have valid points. But let’s just push pause here and think about it.

In the 1800s as the industrial revolution was sweeping the nation it seemed as though no person or no area was safe from impact and modification of man. In seeking to “improve” the standard of living we went from producing things by hand, to everything produced by machine. Fast forward a few decades and enter the conservation movement and forward thinking of people like John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall to name a few. These visionaries could see the benefits of designating large swaths of lands, ecosystems where industry was not dominate and had very little influence. From here came the Wilderness act of 1964 that states, “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions … it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

Bikes have been around much longer than the Wilderness Act, but in the 1950s and ‘60s, just as the Wilderness Act was taking hold, bicycles were being modified to operate better off road and on trails. Tires getting bigger, frames lighter and people were able to access areas on bike that were not possible just years before. Visit any bike shop in the world and you will see that bikes are still evolving. Lighter, faster, tougher than ever before. The bike industry does not have nor should they have a pause button on the technology. There is no doubt that bikes are fun. Really fun. It’s a great way to exercise, spend time outdoors and challenge yourself. I love riding my bike on roads and on mountain trails and I am grateful for the advancements that are made each year.

Today in America we have just about 110 million acres of federally designated wilderness. Traveling in these areas is like stepping back in time. Wilderness is a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced technology dependent society. Each year as we evolve, we become more dependent on technology and less connected to wild places. When we are more comfortable connected to urban and technological landscapes, we are less likely to let it go and seek refuge in the wilderness. Just ask a teenager to put down their phone for a few hours and you will see.

Wilderness is a place where the pause button of industry has been pushed and modern conveniences are not allowed. The tools and equipment used to travel and work in the wilderness have not changed in the last 50 years. Trail crews are still using crosscut saws operated by hand instead of the quickness and convenience of chainsaws. Horses and mules are used to transport heavy loads and posting an update to your Instagram, Twitter, etc. is nearly impossible. Let’s keep some areas in this world free of the burdens of technological evolution. Let’s protect the place where you can engulf all of your senses in in the natural world just as it was 100 years, 10 years even two years ago and will remain 100 years from now. Mountain bikes have their place on trails, but let’s keep them out of these special places. Please keep mechanised transportation out of your wilderness areas.

Bill Fordyce: No mountain bikes in wilderness

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

Bill Fordyce just just had an op-ed posted to the Flathead Beacon, making the case for keeping mountain bikes out of wilderness areas . . .

This is a response to the Mountain-Bicycles-in-Wilderness effort. First, a bit about me – I have four bikes; a Specialized Allez road bike, an old Specialized Stump Jumper mountain bike, a Surly Pugsley fat tire bike, and a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike. I ride them all at various times. I live 30-plus miles from the nearest telephone pole. North of Polebridge, there is no electric grid. Part of each year, I spend several months living on top of a mountain as a forest fire lookout looking for fire. I write all of this to define what forms my thoughts.

I love to ride my fat tire bike back in the woods/mountains where I’m allowed, and where I’m not allowed – I respect the rules of Wilderness. I love knowing Wilderness is there and is a constant sanctuary left the way it was and I hope that it always stays as it is. The attitude of the Sustainable Trails Organization http://www.sustainabletrailscoalition.org and The International Mountain Bicycling Association https://www.imba.com/ remind me of a petulant child – one who is sitting in a supermarket cart full of nutritious food, who leans towards the candy display and screams “I want that.” A temper tantrum focusing not on what they have, only what they don’t have.

I say no bikes in existing Wilderness. There are so many more acres to ride bikes than designated wilderness – BLM Lands, national forest lands and state lands. Where I live, there is a coalition of folks who gathered together to find common ground on national forest land use. They are called the Whitefish Range Partnership and this partnership consists of a diverse group of snowmobilers, loggers, mountain bikers, wilderness advocates, backcountry horsemen, private landowners and other special interest groups. They have collaborated to come to a mutual multi-use land plan for the Whitefish Range that satisfies each of the groups. This agreement was reached by consensus … unanimous agreement. Then, it was submitted as a proposal to the Flathead National Forest in its planning process. No one got exactly what they wanted, but they came to an agreement that they could all live with and enjoy. I feel that future Wilderness designations will come about as a result of collaborative efforts and contain compromises to satisfy the various land use interests.

I’m hoping that the various mountain bike groups here in Montana realize what a precious place our Wilderness Areas are and that they work to lead the way for other mountain bicycle groups to leave them alone. And, that they also lead the way to create new trails through collaboration with other groups. But I don’t want existing wilderness rules to change.

MWA: Zinke flip-flops on public lands transfer

Three Types of Public Lands
Three types of public lands: Flathead National Forest is in the foreground, left and right; Montana’s Coal Creek State Forest, including Cyclone Lake, is in the middle distance; Glacier National Park stretches across the background.

Rep. Ryan Zinke Voted in favor of an ill-considered public lands-related bill and the MWA is pretty annoyed. Election year posturing is such a pain . . .

In a recent op-ed, Congressman Ryan Zinke called himself a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist.” He based that self-characterization on a few votes he made against the transfer and sale of public lands and for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But his vote today in the House Natural Resources Committee in favor of H.R 2316 (the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act) is far from Rooseveltian. In fact, it’s a direct attack on the legacy Teddy left us – our National Forest lands.

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