Category Archives: Commentary

Carolyn Kormann: Ryan Zinke’s Great American Fire Sale

Here’s a well-researched piece by New Yorker staff writer Carolyn Kormann discussing U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan ZInke’s efforts to open up more public lands for resource development. Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this one . . .

Not long ago, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, began distributing “vision cards” to its employees. The front of each card features the B.L.M. logo (a river winding into green foothills); short descriptions of the Bureau’s “vision,” “mission,” and “values”; and an oil rig. On the flip side is a list of “guiding principles,” accompanied by an image of two cowboys riding across a golden plain. Amber Cargile, a B.L.M. spokeswoman, told me that the new cards are meant to reflect the agency’s “multiple-use mission on working landscapes across the West, which includes grazing, energy, timber, mining, recreation, and many other programs.” Individual employees, she added, can opt to wear or display the cards at their own discretion. But, according to the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which obtained photos of the cards and shared them with the Washington Post, supervisors in at least two B.L.M. field offices have been verbally “advising that employees must clip them to their lanyards.” Some workers, speaking to the Post anonymously, said that they felt they had no choice but to comply.

Read more . . .

Amy Robinson: The importance of Wilderness Study Areas

Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana - photo by Zack Porter
Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana – photo by Zack Porter

Amy Robinson, Northwest Montana field director for the Montana Wilderness Association, has a well-written piece in the Flathead Beacon on Wilderness Study Areas . . .

Lately we’ve heard a lot from our politicians about public lands and specifically Wilderness Study Areas. I’ve worked on public lands challenges, and wilderness protection, for nearly six years in Northwest Montana. This is a topic I know something about.

What are these Wilderness Study Areas? These areas are the headwaters for our communities, our backyard playgrounds, our open, quiet, wildflower-filled prairies, buttes, breaks and badlands. In some places, grizzlies dig for army cutworm moths, wolverines roam free, wildlife graze on winter range, and people hunt, fish, hike, climb, ski, backpack and generally find opportunity for rejuvenation. These areas were protected by Congress in 1977.

What’s it all about? Three bills were recently introduced to Congress. One by Sen. Steve Daines and two by Rep. Greg Gianforte. Together, these bills remove protection from 29 different areas totalling over 800,000 acres across our state. These are public lands that are managed either by the U.S Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. All of these areas have historically been recognized as special and worthy to be considered, and managed, for future Wilderness designation. These protections do matter and are above and beyond the roadless rule. This is something we should all care about and pay attention to.

Read more . . .

Carol Edwards: Grizzlies should be protected, not hunted

Grizzly Bear - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS
Grizzly Bear – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS

NFPA member Carol “Kelly” Edwards has had an op-ed published in several local and regional papers advocating against hunting of grizzly bears . . .

Letter written to Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming…

As a neighboring Montana citizen, I am so proud of my state wildlife officials for having resisted pressure from “special interest groups” that somehow believe that they should have the right to shoot the very creatures that the rest of us are all spending our tax dollars to save. We want them, and the places they need in order to survive and thrive, protected. If you like all of your bears stuffed, hanging on walls, or in captivity, then you belong in a museum, a zoo, or a bar. You don’t belong in charge of live bears or their living conditions.

Our states can continue to thrive and expand our economic opportunities if we just take care of these critters and keep the things and places that live only in our northwest Rocky Mountain areas alive and healthy. They are a magnificent heritage.

These bears amaze people. Visitors come from all over the world for a chance to see one of these magnificent creatures. They, in themselves, not to mention our other magnificent top predators, and all those who form the chain of wildlife, create a base for an ever-increasing economy for those states that still enjoy their presence. You, of all people know that by far the large majority of our state earnings come from out of state visitors, and people who move here for the “quality of life” (read: clean air, water, beautiful scenery and access to the awesome public lands, natural parks and wildlife that live in them). It is a fiction that we have to sell “kill permits” to rich hunters, in order to keep wildlife around. This is just robbing Peter to pay Paul, a silly strategy no matter where it’s applied.

Think of our states and their traditional economies: mining, timber, hunting and some cattle and sheep ranching. Any way, you see it, no matter whose fault it is or isn’t, the climate and the shortage of water, especially in the west of the country, is making agriculture and animal husbandry very difficult to impossible, and it’s getting worse all the time. What happens when all the ore, oil, gas, forests and grazing and water for the animals are gone? Are we all just going to up and leave the stubble and rubble and poisoned water?

Our state needs a modern economy, a sustainable economy. It’s time to help the rest of us preserve a valuable resource that belongs to, and can earn a living for, all of us here in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Don’t kill the golden goose, er, bear.

Carol Edwards,
Polebridge

Will Hammerquist: Manage Public Lands in a Sustainable, Collaborative Way

Will Hammerquist, owner of the Polebridge Mercantile, had a nice op-ed in the Flathead Beacon regarding the effectiveness of collaborative land planning . . .

As the owner of a small business in one of the most remote locations in Montana, my livelihood depends on public lands. And I’m not the only one who has a stake in these places – that was clear when over 30 groups came together five years ago to collaborate about the management of the Whitefish Range on the Flathead National Forest. I’m glad to say that the Flathead National Forest’s most recent revision of their management plan largely adopts the recommendations of the Whitefish Range Partnership.

The forest has taken leadership by listening to the needs and wishes of the community, and I hope that our elected decision makers will do the same. The Whitefish Range Partnership, the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, and the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act are all shining examples of what is possible when community members sit down at the table and find common ground solutions in land management. We need to look for answers from the people who know the land best, and within the communities that will feel the outcomes the most.

Continue reading Will Hammerquist: Manage Public Lands in a Sustainable, Collaborative Way

Keeping partnership vision intact

Flathead National Forest - view of Whitefish Divide
Flathead National Forest – view of Whitefish Divide

This op-ed has been making the rounds of local and state newspapers for the past week.

The NFPA has been a member of the Whitefish Range Partnership from the beginning . . .

There’s a lot of bad news about divisiveness in America. Here’s a local good-news story: Folks with very diverse interests in the Flathead Valley met over a 13-month period, got way past “No!” and achieved a unanimous agreement on national forest management. Sound impossible? No, not really. The Flathead Forest has formally adopted most of the Whitefish Range Partnership’s recommendations in their recently released revised forest plan, proving that local input matters, and that people who work together in good faith can have a positive impact.

The Partnership focused exclusively on the Whitefish Range, located north of Whitefish and west of Glacier Park. Our group is composed of nearly 30 members from landowners, business owners, wilderness advocates, motorized recreationists, horsemen, fishermen and women, mountain bikers, timber interests, and wildlife and trails advocates, among others.

The Partnership came together early in the Flathead Forest plan revision process. This was the first time that many historically divergent interests in the Flathead sat in the same room together to try and talk it out. In the beginning no one was sure what we were doing or what would come of it. But, after the first few meetings, we were able to define our collective vision for the Whitefish Range and began putting our results on paper.

We worked in sub-committees on ten subjects ranging from wildland and prescribed fire, to fisheries, weed management, recreation, and more. Experts came and shared information about each topic to inform our work, and keep us within the Forest Service laws and guidelines. Committees reported back to the larger group for further debate and a vote. By our own rules, we had to reach 100 percent consensus on each topic before we could proceed to the next.

So, what’s resulted from this hard work?

In the end, we agreed unanimously to submit our recommendations on ten subjects to the Forest Service. Everyone felt that by supporting one another, each of our values could be elevated in the planning process for the Whitefish Range. Where and how was timber harvest best? Where are the areas that snowmobiling is important and desired? Where should there be more trails? What special areas should be protected as Wilderness? These are examples of the elements of our agreement.

Ultimately, for our partnership to succeed, we need to see a signed forest plan. It’s important that officials in Washington DC allow the Flathead Forest plan to proceed and conclude without top-down interference. The Final Plan should be signed following the official “objection period” that is currently underway.

Collaborative groups and processes represent the best available opportunities for resolving socially complex, natural resource decision-making. Other Montana-based collaboratives, like the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project and the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, can only succeed if our elected officials and our local decision-makers consider and act on citizen recommendations.

In this period of American history where many people – and many elected officials – seem to think that their point of view is the only point of view, we recommend talking and listening, and coming up with forest plans, community plans, even state and national legislation, that reflects the consensus of the community served.

We wish to thank the Flathead Forest planning staff for taking time, providing resources, and listening to citizens. While the Flathead staff clearly considered other points of view and suggestions for the North Fork Geographic Unit (the Whitefish Range), as reflected in the Final Plan, the plan also reflects the consensus of the Whitefish Range Partnership.

Noah Bodman, Flathead Area Mountain bikers; Allen Chrisman, North Fork Compact; Paul McKenzie, F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company; Amy Robinson, Montana Wilderness Association; Heidi Van Everen, Whitefish Legacy Partners; Bill Walker, North Fork Preservation Association; Larry Wilson, North Fork landowner

On behalf of the Whitefish Range Partnership.

‘Our land, our legacy’ campaign launches

Kent Peak in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area - photo by Sally Carlson
Kent Peak in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area – photo by Sally Carlson

A message from our friends at the Montana Wilderness Association…

On Monday morning, February 5, we helped launch the campaign for our Our Land, Our Legacy – a diverse group of Montanans from across the state who have come together to celebrate and defend Montana’s 44 wilderness study areas (WSAs), which comprise more than 1 million acres of Montana’s wildest, most pristine public lands.

Five of our wilderness study areas, a half-million acres in all, are under attack by Senator Steve Daines, who introduced a bill in December (S. 2206) that would open these areas to oil and gas development and destructive off-road vehicle use.

Each of the folks featured in Our Land, Our Legacy has a special relationship to one or more of the WSAs and can speak on behalf of these places like few others. We’re proud to have them as our partners in fighting tooth and nail for Montana’s wildest, most pristine public lands.

The launch of Our Land, Our Legacy drew a wave of media, locally and nationally, from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle to the Ravalli Republic to U.S News & World Report. On Tuesday, Our Land, Our Legacy advertisements opposing Sen. Daines’ bill appeared in newspapers across the state.

Then on Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (SENR) held a hearing on the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, which would add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas. With support from a spectrum of interests, from timber to outdoor recreation to conservation, this proposal is truly the product of grassroots collaboration happening in Montana, and it shows in the 74 percent approval it gets from Montanans. We couldn’t be more grateful to Senator Jon Tester for championing this bill.

The grassroots, bipartisan roots of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act stands in stark contrast to the other Montana public lands bill that got a hearing in the SENR on Wednesday – Sen. Daines’ WSA bill. In the hearing, Sen. Daines claimed he had the support of Montana’s communities for this top-down, one-size-fits-all bill.

Only a few hours later at a Ravalli County Commission meeting in Hamilton, Montana, MWA members proved Sen. Daines wrong.

Oh so wrong.

Thanks to the mobilizing efforts of our staff and volunteers, around 250 people showed up to the open meeting, held to address a letter the commission sent to Senator Daines in support of stripping protection from two of the WSAs in the bill – Sapphire and Blue Joint, which mostly lie in Ravalli County.

A staggering 153 people signed into the county meeting as opposed to Senator Daines’ bill, only 41 in support. Over the course of the next few hours, 52 people testified against the bill, 20 in favor. Moreover, 78 people sent the commission emails opposing the bill, compared to 20 in favor.

Read more about the meeting.

Please take a moment to visit the Our Land, Our Legacy website. Be sure to watch the video featuring some of the Our Land, Our Legacy spokespeople, and then sign the letter asking Montana’s congressional delegation to take a more balanced and inclusive approach to Montana’s WSAs.

If you’re feeling especially ambitious, let the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee know that you oppose Sen. Daines’ bill, S. 2206. You can email the committee at fortherecord@energy.senate.gov.

 

G. George Ostrom: Gianforte peddling wrong thing

U.S. Rep. Greg Gainforte is taking heat from across the political spectrum for supporting “bikes over wilderness” legislation. This latest zinger is from G. George Ostrom . . .

Worrisome news recently broke with the new U.S. House Rep. Greg Gianforte, from Montana, suggesting the Wilderness Bill be amended to allow bicycles and other questionable uses. He implied the original bill allowed such things. As this paper’s editor, Chris Peterson, pointed out in his fine column last week, Gianforte has a very bad idea and, from this columnist’s point of view, Gianforte is inaccurate in his statement, not to mention the very real dangers bike riders would create for themselves and other legitimate users.

Please let me remind readers that I interrupted my growing journalistic career, sold my home and moved my family from Washington D.C. to help write the Wilderness Bill in the 87th Congress. I came home in debt from what we accomplished, but felt proud and honored to have been a part of it.

Read more . . .

A tribute to Alan McNeil

Alan R. McNeil - courtesy Cecily McNeil
Alan R. McNeil – courtesy Cecily McNeil

Here’s a heartfelt article on the recent death of Alan McNeil posted by James Conner to his “Flathead Memo” website . . .

Alan McNeil, a friend of 30 plus years, died of a heart attack on 29 December, returning from a grocery buying trip to Kalispell. He was 66. Al is survived by his mother, Cecily, son Henry and daughter Fiona, and brother Bruce.

I learned of Al’s death only today. Needing a respite from outside input, I had not opened my email, which contained the bad news, since Christmas. I last saw Al at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner, but was not able to join them for dinner on Christmas.

Read more at Flathead Memo . . .

Chris Peterson: Wilderness Act is clear on bikes

A well-reasoned piece on the “bikes over wilderness” issue by Chris Peterson, editor of the Hungry Horse News . . .

On Tuesday, Aug. 28, 1928, Bob Marshall, a Forest Service employee and wilderness champion, started a walk at Echo Lake near Bigfork. By the end of the day, he arrived at the Elk Park Ranger Station up the South Fork of the Flathead. It was a 30 mile hike. He hiked 40 miles the next day to the Black Bear Ranger Station. The day after that, he did another hike, up and over Pagoda Pass, then off-trail through the woods to the top of the Chinese Wall and then back to Black Bear Ranger Station. That hike was 42 miles.

And so Bob walked.

Over the course of eight days, he went 288 miles, through what is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Mission Mountain Wilderness. He ended up at the Seeley Lake post office.

Read more . . .

John B. Sullivan III: Many Montanans rely on wilderness study areas

Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana - photo by Zack Porter
Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana – photo by Zack Porter

A balanced, thoughtful op-ed on wilderness study areas by John B. Sullivan III, board chairman of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers . . .

Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines surprised Montanans by introducing the deceptively named Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act that would put nearly half a million acres of prime public lands in Montana at risk of development and exploitation.

Montana’s Wilderness Study Areas were identified 40 years ago as special, wild places, worthy of careful management. They vary greatly in habitat, ecosystems, and recreational offerings. A blanket policy applied across diverse areas is never good management. We therefore oppose Daines’ one-size-fits-all plan.

Many WSAs are overdue for action, and we’re not opposed to revisiting and finalizing management plans. But forcing a top-down and broad-brush approach to managing lands that haven’t been studied in decades is irresponsible.

Review should start with local, thoughtful and diverse discussions involving various stakeholders. Daines didn’t hold a single public meeting or ask for input from Montanans about these WSAs. His proposal not only ignores local input, which, apparently, is important to Daines only when it suits his needs; it also selects areas attractive to special interest development and resource extraction.

Many Montanans rely on WSAs. With his proposal Daines once again is ignoring those of us who value them to hunt, fish and reconnect with the landscape.