Frank Vitale: Daines not a conservation hero

Long-time NFPA member Frank Vitale has a few things to say about Congeressman Steve Daines’ rather uneven support for conservation issues. This letter to the editor was published in this week’s Hungry Horse News and is also scheduled to appear in a number of other papers.

While I feel Congressman Steve Daines’ introduction of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 is a great step forward, let’s not frame him as a conservation hero. With his political ambitions it would be political suicide if he didn’t support protection of the North Fork.

But let’s look at his overall conservation track record. First of all, he has dragged his feet on supporting one of the largest and most important pieces of conservation legislation in decades: The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Rather than getting behind this broad-based, made-in-Montana collaborative he stands to be the biggest spoiler. The Heritage Act is a plan that’s truly citizen based and represents many stakeholders. Support for its protection has been overwhelming. The Front also has some of the wildest country left in the lower 48. Under the Act most traditional uses will remain intact while protecting the most incredible landscapes and diverse ecosystems in Montana.

Then, Steve Daines introduces House Bill HR1526 that would probably make even most folks in the timber industry cringe. He basically throws the collaborative process out the window. His bill would impose mandatory timber targets for the Forest Service. This takes us back to the dark ages – when collaboration was nonexistent – back to the days of the timber wars of the 1970’s and ’80’s.

So is Steve Daines a conservation hero? I hardly think so. The North Fork Watershed Protection Act – while good – is also an easy bone to throw at the conservation community.

Frank Vitale