After 40 years in limbo, Montana Wilderness Study Areas are finally addressed in Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines’ bill S2206, Protect Public Use of Public Lands.
Why should we support S2206? The first reason is that many of the WSA’s were designated based on the political maneuvering of preservationist groups, rather than wilderness character. Take for instance the Ten Lakes WSA near Eureka. Does the Ten Lakes WSA have some wilderness character? Definitely. Does the Ten Lakes WSA meet the criteria for wilderness as defined in the 1964 wilderness act? Absolutely Not! The WSA itself contains old logging roads, timber harvest units, and historic mining activity. After its 1975 evaluation, the Forest Service recommended that the area not be considered for wilderness designation. Yet, somehow it got included into the MWSA Act in 1977. You tell me what happened.
If the bill passes, forest management in most WSA’s won’t change much. These areas are not going to be clear cut, mined, or overrun by ATVs. The WSA debate is about recreation access. The people in favor of S2206 would like to see multiple use recreation continue in WSAs. The preservationists who oppose S2206 want to exclude all other recreation groups except themselves. Personally, it doesn’t bother me if other people want to mountain bike or snowmobile in places I like to hike. Unfortunately, my live-and-let-live attitude is not shared by the preservationists.
Whether or not to support S2206 is pretty simple. If you are someone who values your freedom to access Montana’s public lands, but also respects the rights of others to enjoy those same public lands however they choose, then support it. If you are the type who can’t stand the thought of somebody snowmobiling through a meadow you like to hike to in the summer time, oppose it.