Dear Sen. Steve Daines:
In February, you voted for big-W Wilderness in a big way.
You not just voted for but championed a lands package that included 1.3 million acres of new Wilderness in Utah, New Mexico, Oregon, and California.
We thank and commend you for permanently protecting some of America’s most revered public lands in those states.
But we can’t help but wonder: Why you have shown so little interest in doing the same for public lands in Montana?
After all, you had the opportunity to do so by lending your support to the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA). Certainly, as a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (SENR), you could have helped ensure BCSA’s inclusion in the lands package.
This made-in-Montana bill, introduced in 2017 by Sen. Jon Tester, was crafted by a bipartisan coalition of timber mill operators, ranchers, outfitters, business owners, sportsmen, mountain bikers, and conservationists. It would add a little less than 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas. It’s a pretty modest bill compared to every Wilderness bill you voted for in the SENR and again in the lands package, especially the Emery County Public Land Act, which designated 661,000 acres in southern Utah’s San Rafael Swell.
It was inspiring that some of the most ardent public land opponents in the county — including former Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Congressmen Rob Bishop and John Curtis — joined with some of the most ardent wilderness advocates in the country in support of the Utah bill, which begs the question: If Bishop can join with the likes of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in designating 661,000 acres of Wilderness in Utah (not exactly known as a Wilderness-loving state), what is preventing you from joining with timber mill operators, ranchers and others in Seeley Lake and Ovando in designating 80,000 acres in Wilderness-loving Montana?
Your supporters certainly wouldn’t mind. After all, the BCSA enjoys the support of 68 percent of Republicans, as well as 74 percent of Independents and 78 percent of Democrats (according to the 2018 bipartisan University of Montana Public Lands Survey). Moreover, 65 percent of Montanans, according to the same poll, support additional Wilderness in the state.
Despite these numbers that show Montanans overwhelmingly support the BCSA, you have refused to support the bill and have yet to publicly explain why. You demonstrated that you aren’t opposed to Wilderness. So what gives?
Perhaps you think Montana already has enough Wilderness. If that’s the case, it might be worth considering these facts:
• Less than 4 percent of Montana’s entire landmass is currently designated as Wilderness.
• Montana ranks 14th in the nation in terms of Wilderness percentage. Florida has more Wilderness, landmass percentage-wise, than Montana.
• Since 1984, only 67,000 acres have been designated as Wilderness in Montana. That’s less than the number of acres designated in Arkansas (153,00 acres), New Hampshire (105,00 acres), and 14 other states during the same time.
All of these numbers are hard to fathom given that Montana is the fourth biggest state, the third least densely populated and arguably the wildest in the Lower 48.
Perhaps you’ve refused to support the BCSA over some concern you have about access. In that case, it might be helpful to remember that the BCSA would open 2,000 acres to snowmobiling near Ovando and would preserve prized mountain bike access to Spread Mountain, Center Ridge and Camp Pass. And it would safeguard some of the best places in the world to fish and hunt.
But all is not lost. Sen. Tester will likely reintroduce the BCSA this year, giving you another opportunity to do what Montanans would like you both to do.
Please seize it.
Jay Frederick, of Ennis, is an Army veteran and retired district ranger of the Dakota Prairie National Grasslands. Cathie Jean, of Ennis, is a retired National Park Service ecologist and a former program manager at the Montana Natural Heritage Program.