Revised Federal Land Report to be Released

The Environmental Quality Council voted unanimously to release the amended report to the public

By Lisa Baumann, Associated Press

HELENA — A legislative panel voted Thursday to release a revised draft report on federal land management problems in Montana after some lawmakers complained it had a “hidden agenda” to transfer public lands to the state.

The Environmental Quality Council voted unanimously to release the amended report to the public, which now says the Legislature should not pursue a management transfer until all other options have been investigated.

Rep. Bill McChesney, D-Miles City, introduced the language after some Democratic members of the council complained that the report was slanted toward the idea of the state taking over the management of federal lands.

“An option of last resort is how I see it,” he said of the idea.

Others voiced concerns in light of the state’s Republican Party adding to their platform in June a resolution to support granting federally managed public lands to the states.

But the sponsor of the bill that led to the report, Sen. Jennifer Fielder, said the report is a look at possible solutions for better federal land management and is not part of a movement to transfer lands. The Republican from Thompson Falls said she was opposed to adding the amended language to the report.

“We worked really hard on this to bring recommendations that the whole council will support, and I don’t believe this is one that can be supported in a bipartisan nature,” she said. “There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered before we make a recommendation for or against.”

The report lists five recommendations regarding federal lands including reducing wildfire fuels, maintaining or increasing access for multiple uses, and increasing economic production associated with natural resources. It also says people in rural areas and those most affected by federal land management should have their interests better represented and that there should be more federal accountability regarding laws favorable to local and state entities.

The draft report also lists 32 risks and concerns from what it says is a proliferation of noxious weeds, to inadequate funding for wildfire suppression to unmanaged, overpopulated timber stands, among others.

EQC member Scott Aspenlieder said he thinks the draft report is neutral and called it the first step of investigation.

“This is a first step of what might be 10 or 20 steps,” he said, adding that the overall conversation has sparked a healthy public debate.

The report will be available for public comment in the next month. Once it’s finalized it will go to the 2015 Legislature to use in addressing federal land issues.

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