Category Archives: Commentary

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.

Rob Breeding: Feeding elk was never a good idea

Deer with Chronic Wasting Disease - Wyoming Game and Fish Dept
Deer with Chronic Wasting Disease – Wyoming Game and Fish Dept

Here’s a good, balanced discussion of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) among Montana’s deer and elk population and the influence of Wyoming’s elk feedlots . . .

Last week the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission asked Wyoming to stop feeding elk during the winter on the feeding grounds in the northwest part of that state. There are more than 20 Wyoming feeding grounds, some at the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, the rest in counties south of the refuge.

The commission’s letter was sparked by the discovery this fall of Chronic Wasting Disease in Montana deer just north of the Wyoming border in hunt units south of Bridger. The disease has infected both mule and white-tailed deer. CWD has since been detected in a mule deer buck killed just south of the Canadian border north of Chester. Since CWD is present in Canadian provinces north of us — Alberta and Saskatchewan — it’s probable the disease has been migrating into Montana across both borders, as well as from the east, where CWD was previously confirmed in the Dakotas.

As far as CWD goes, the commission’s letter probably arrives too late. The disease is in Montana, maybe it’s been here for some time, and evidence from other states suggests eradication is unlikely. The feeding grounds are, or will become, CWD hot spots, but eliminating them now won’t do much to slow the inevitable spread of the disease across Montana.

Read more . . .

Larry Wilson: Loss of funding to Flathead Basin Commission disappointing

Flathead Lake Bio Station

Larry Wilson takes the Montana DNRC to task for eliminating the Flathead Basin Commission’s funding . . .

I am very disappointed that Montana has cut funding to the Flathead Basin Commission. That commission has generated more funds and done more good than most state agencies, so we should probably not be surprised that it is easy to dismantle.

My memory may not be completely accurate, but as I recall, the Basin Commission was the brainchild of a state legislator named Jean Turnage, who later became a Supreme Court Justice. The purpose of the FBC was to monitor and protect water quality in the Flathead Basin. Included were the Park Superintendant, Forest Service Supervisor, private companies and citizens appointed to by the governor and agencies like the Confederated Tribes and others I do not recall.

There was hardly any budget. When I was appointed as a citizen member, the commission was supervised by a member of the governor’s staff who had many other duties and was not easy to contact.

Read more . . .

America’s wilderness is no place for mountain bikes

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

Debo Powers, who has been sending in lots of links lately, spotted this opinion piece regarding a poorly thought out bill that would allow mountain bikes in wilderness areas. Seriously? . . .

Congress is currently considering legislation that would undermine a bedrock law that protects America’s iconic landscapes, our traditional way of life, and the wild landscapes that we’ve safeguarded for generations. This shortsighted proposal should be defeated.

H.R. 1349, introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), would re-write the Wilderness Act of 1964 to permit mountain bikes in America’s wilderness, where they have been prohibited for more than a half-century.

The National Wilderness Preservation System, created by the 1964 law, ensures that some of our remaining wild country remains as it has been for hundreds of years. By law, wilderness areas do not allow road building and other forms of development, and prohibit motorized and mechanized vehicles, including mountain bikes.

Read more . . .

Senator Daines is sabotaging our wild legacy

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

From Debo Powers, NFPA President: Conservation organizations around Montana are organizing opposition to Senator Daines’ bill to release Wilderness Study Areas for multiple use. This is an attack on our wild heritage and will be met with fierce opposition. Here is a blog written by John Todd, the Conservation Director for the Montana Wilderness Association . . .

Today, Sen. Daines sabotaged Montana’s wild legacy

He introduced a bill that would strip protection from nearly a half-million acres of our wildest and most pristine public lands. And he did so without holding a single public meeting or a single town hall for Montanans to discuss his bill.

His bill would remove protection from five wilderness study areas (WSAs): West Pioneer (151,000 acres), Blue Joint (32,500 acres), Sapphire (94,000), Middle Fork Judith (81,000), and Big Snowies (91,000).

If this bill were to pass, it would represent the single biggest loss of protected public lands in our state’s history.

Read more . . .