While I feel Congressman Steve Daines’s 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, this bill is a no brainer. It would be political suicide if he didn’t. But let’s look at his overall conservation track record. The bright light for conservation looks even dimmer if Steve Daines stays on course.
First of all, he has dragged his feet on supporting one of the largest and most important pieces of conservation legislation the state of Montana has seen 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 has a long history of collaboration. It’s a plan that is truly citizen based representing many stakeholders. The Rocky Mountain Front is a working landscape, big and wide, and support for its protection has been overwhelming. It also has some of the wildest country left in the lower 48. Under the Heritage Act most traditional uses will remain intact while protecting the most incredible landscapes and diverse ecosystems Montana has to offer.
Then, Steve Daines introduces a timber bill that would probably make even most folks in the timber industry cringe. He basically throws the collaborative process out the window – a process of open dialog that most of the stakeholders took years to develop. His timber bill will impose mandatory timber targets for the Forest Service along with a ban on public participation. This takes us back to the dark ages – when collaboration was nonexistent – back to the days of the timber wars of the 1970s and ‘80s.
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.
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