Guest Column

Meet in the Middle and Work for all Montanans

Magic occurs when diverse interests and stakeholders put their differences aside and focus on their commonalities

It’s painful to watch the national news. Partisan politics rule the day. The times when you made decisions by taking into account the best interests of your neighbor feel all but gone. We used to come together as one nation, indivisible, and chart out a course that we all could agree on.

We used to meet in the middle. And in rural Montana, we still do.

We have all seen the magic that occurs when diverse interests and stakeholders put their differences aside, and focus on their commonalities. That’s the real Montana – not Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Independents. It’s neighbor helping neighbor solve to problems and plan for a future where the grizzly and elk are plentiful, and where our kids and grandkids can still find moments of inspiration in mountain meadows.

On the heels of the recent Montana state legislative session, there was a lot of talk about our public lands. Some radical folks on the right feel our federal public lands – lands that are managed and protected for all to use and enjoy – should be transferred to states, or sold completely to private parties. They aren’t happy with how these lands are managed by our Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or National Park Service.

We saw the same rancor on the left side of the spectrum, with extremists who toss wrenches into forest restoration activities with little consideration for simple – yet hugely significant – consequences for local economies and potential wildfire risks.

We urge Montanans of all stripes to meet us in the middle, listen to each other, respect each other, and hash out a path forward where we all win.

Over the last decade we’ve seen lots of bills come and go statewide and nationally that propose quick fixes to long-term problems. The only legislation that has passed, that has passed the litmus test of all Montanans, are the pieces of legislation where the solutions started around the kitchen tables of real Montanans.

The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, which permanently protected thousands of acres of prime wildlife habitat, was over 30 years in the making. Sure, there were folks on the left who said the habitat protections were not enough, and people on the right who said it was too much. But the overwhelming majority met in the middle. And Montana is better for it.

More recently in the communities of Seeley Lake and Ovando, over a decade of listening, tweaking and compromise resulted in the recently introduced Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, which not only puts logs on trucks and promotes forest restoration activities, it also provides mountain bikes and snowmobiles with more terrain while permanently designating some of Montana’s wildest landscapes such as Grizzly Basin and Monture Creek as wilderness.

We are seeing this collaboration elsewhere in the state. The Gallatin Range near Bozeman is currently seeing mountain bikers, hunters, horsemen, skiers, outfitters and conservationists working together to find permanent solutions for that vital corner of Greater Yellowstone. That collaborative spirit is also alive and well in Lincoln, where ranchers, timber mills, snowmobilers, business owners, fly fishermen, hunters and more are working together to create a positive future for the area.

Each Montanan has the ability to come together, meet in the middle, and decide how Montana grows in the next hundred years and beyond. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, and new Congressman Greg Gianforte: please, support our Montana-made solutions. Put your partisan leanings aside. Work on behalf of Montanans, who meet in the middle.

It’s in this place where the real work is done.

Loren Rose (Seeley Lake) is the chief operating officer of Pyramid Mountain Lumber. Paul Roos (Lincoln) is owner of Paul Roos Outfitters. Barb Cestero (Bozeman) is a senior regional representative for The Wilderness Society.