It’s been near impossible to miss the headlines about armed extremists and radical politicians trying to destroy our national public lands legacy. From Washington, D.C. to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, selfishness and delusional interpretations of the U.S. Constitution have come together in support of a disastrous agenda aimed squarely at one thing: taking national public lands away from the American people.
But neither the armed militants at Malheur nor the suit-clad lands transfer zealots in Utah and D.C. have anticipated how much the American people, Westerners in particular, value public lands. In January, Colorado College released its sixth-annual bipartisan Conservation in the West Poll, showing that Western voters, including Montanans, see American public lands as integral to our economy and way of life and overwhelmingly oppose efforts to weaken and seize those lands.
The poll also revealed that Westerners strongly support people working together to find common-ground solutions to public land challenges, and herein lies the antidote to the toxic anti-public lands agenda represented by the likes of the Bundy gang and the American Lands Council. Community-driven collaboratives not only result in the protection of wild places, the creation of new jobs, and the advancement of our public lands legacy, they also nourish our nation’s democracy.
The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project (BCSP) and the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition (KFSC) are two homegrown examples of collaboratives that demonstrate the power of people putting their differences aside to craft solutions that meet a spectrum of needs.
In 2015, the BCSP celebrated 10 years of hard work restoring a watershed that provides essential habitat for grizzly bears, bull trout, elk, mountain goats, and other key species. In addition to promoting outdoor recreation and providing opportunities for forest restoration, the BCSP has proposed designating 87,000 acres of wilderness additions to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountain Wilderness Areas and a new snowmobile area north of Ovando.
Similarly, the KFSC in northwestern Montana has overcome 30 years of intense local conflict over management of the Kootenai National Forest and unified around an agreement that includes more than 180,000 acres of wilderness designation, doubling the size of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness and forever protecting the Yaak Valley roadless areas and the Scotchman Peaks. Their agreement also includes thoughtful recommendations for sustainable timber harvest and a proposal for expanded snowmobile use.
Finding common ground is a challenging endeavor, but it’s something Montanans have been doing for decades when it comes to solving conflict around our public lands. Without this kind of solution-oriented approach and commitment to cooperation, there would be no Bob Marshall, no Beartooth-Absaroka, no Selway-Bitterroot, or any other designated wilderness area that Montanans now cherish. Without collaboration, many stream and forest restoration projects would never have been completed.
It is hard to imagine a more cynical and disastrous agenda for our nation’s outdoor heritage than what the anti-public lands extremists are peddling. It’s also hard to imagine an agenda more poisonous for Montana’s communities. You only need to look at the divisiveness and civil turmoil that the Bundy gang brought to Burns, Oregon to have an idea of what our communities would like should the anti-public lands movement gain a foothold in Montana.
Let’s confront the anti-public lands militants and the lands transfer radicals by continuing our tradition of working together as a community and finding solutions to our public land challenges that includes protecting special places for all Americans.
Brian Sybert is executive director of Montana Wilderness Association.
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