LETTER: A Tale of Two Maps

By Beacon Staff

Twenty years ago, I returned to the Flathead Valley after a self-imposed exile to the University of Montana to earn a degree, followed by a nine-month, two-week, three-day deployment to Southern California where I taught seventh-grade English. Not long after returning to the Flathead, I joined Flathead County Search and Rescue, and I was issued a map.

This map is a “Forest Visitor’s Map, Flathead National Forest, Montana, 1991.” Jump ahead with me now to 1998. I am issued another map. This one titled “Flathead National Forest, Montana, 1998.” What is different? A couple of things: First, William Jefferson Clinton is president; second, thousands of acres of public lands have disappeared from the Flathead National Forest, changed hands and become privately owned.

The land I am referring to involved several sections of timbered land on Haskill Mountain, currently referred to as Haskill Mountain Ranch. This transfer took place without public hearings and without the annoyance of an Environmental Impact Study due to efforts of President Clinton’s deputy chief of staff. The land “swap” took two independent acts of Congress to complete. The first, the Gallatin Preservation Act of 1993, was sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus and co-sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns and was the first piece of environmental legislation pushed through and signed by President Clinton. The second act is referred to a Gallatin II.

I was well acquainted with the land in question, having hunted Haskill Mountain since 1966. Following the introduction of gates to prevent vehicle access to various areas on the National Forest, I continued to hunt the Haskill area on foot. I once asked a Forest Service official why the gates were placed on Haskill Mountain. The reply I received was that the area contained “Critical Whitetail Winter Habit.”

The designation of “Critical Whitetail Winter Habitat” went by the wayside once the land swap went through. Thousands of acres of timber were sheared and clear-cut. Now we have reports (Feb. 3 Beacon: “Public-Private Land Deal Under Discussion for Haskill Mountain Ranch”) that the owners of that land want to sell it back to the Forest Service. How nice.

If the land deal does not involve any taxpayer money in any form, such as grants or loans, I am all for it. But, if this sale is going to involve monies collected by the federal government and redistributed to buy back land once it has been stripped of its resources following backroom, closed-door deals, then the answer is “no deal!”
Richard Funk

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