Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte and Sen. Steve Daines have recently proposed the roll back of some 700,000 protected acres of Wilderness Study Areas in Montana. Some of these lands have been proposed by the Bureau of Land Management as worthy of wilderness designation. It is the belief of these congressional proponents of change that the current use is restrictive and wasteful. As citizens of Montana, should we, as the voting public, not be well informed of this top down change? Have these acres not always been “public use lands?” Should these legislators not be meeting eye to eye with their constituents in well-publicized town meetings from Dillon to Plentywood, from Libby to Ekalaka? Are there not citizens who live in this state other than a handful of county commissioners? Should they not be showing the public a state map with the lands to be rolled back clearly marked in every newspaper in the state? Lands composed of pristine timber are affected as well as lands composed of colorful Badland formation. East to west, north to south. Do we as citizens and current users of this land not have a say? Where are our open and public meetings seeking input from those who are represented by these men we have sent to Washington, D.C.?
May we not ask, what is the new proposed purpose of these lands that have had a protected status in the past? It is unclear. Logging? Cattle grazing? Oil and gas development? Fracking? Subdivisions? Large ranches for the wealthy? Hazardous waste burial sites? Pipelines? Hot dog stands? Again it is unclear. Are there legal and accountable uses written down for the public to see and judge? Certainly with BLM and the Forest Service out of the picture, there will no longer be any oversight.
Finally, it has always been a part of the Montana character to value our wildlands, to see worth in nature and something precious beyond just making a buck. Most of us marvel at a bald eagle, a sage grouse, a snowy owl, ponderosa pines, a grove of golden aspen, moose and elk, meadowlarks and western bluebirds, yellow bells and shooting stars, native trout and pristine water bubbling up from the ground. In cities, one must go to the zoo or a museum. In Montana it is free. Can we have a say in our destiny? Is our state for sale without even knowing it?
It is easy to look up phone numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses of Gianforte, Daines and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in faraway Washington, D.C. Let us be a state of educated citizens. Let us question.
Jill Weiser lives in Kalispell.
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