Uncommon Ground

Cooperating Leaders

Sen. Steve Daines deserves credit for working to conserve the economic driver of the Flathead

I messaged Jason Thielman on Twitter to ask him to share some of his bosses’ thoughts about the conservation of working lands. Thielman was a student at Whitefish High School back when Bob Brown was teaching. Currently he serves as chief of staff to Montana Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines.

Daines, succeeding Denny Rehberg, hired Thielman to run operations in the House and later the Senate. Prior, Thielman ran Brown’s gubernatorial campaign against Brian Schweitzer.

Both Brown and Schweitzer proved instrumental in assuring the Flathead earns the chance to remain a nice place to live in forthcoming decades. I’m grateful for their enduring work and leadership.

Daines once shared a gubernatorial election ticket with Roy Brown, running against Schweitzer in his 2008 reelection. Later Daines, as a senator, worked to secure federal funds with Montana Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester to conserve the Whitefish watershed and working forestlands of Haskill Basin.

In Congress, Daines and Tester successfully helped conserve hundreds of thousands of acres of river corridor from development by passing a North Fork Watershed Protection Act.

Daines and Tester supported recent conservation on thousands of acres of working lands north of Whitefish Lake. They quietly worked to advance conservation for tens of thousands of acres of timberlands in the Kootenai National Forest north of Libby.

Thielman emailed that these projects provide multiple local benefits from habitat to logging to mountain biking and other forms of outdoor recreation.

Expect Daines, he texted, to support the Crystal Cedar Project, which will reduce forest fuels, improve trees, and provide miles of new recreation trail north of Columbia Falls and west of the Flathead River.

With nearly 70 percent of Montana’s fishing access sites funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, you’ll continue to see Sen. Daines push on the importance of fully funding the Land Water Conservation Fund, continued Thielman.

Thielman wrote that it’s important to mention the support the senator has shown for aquatic invasive species funding requests throughout the state. Invasive species, he continued, have a devastating impact on our lakes and river systems. Ensuring resources are available to support this effort is critical as fishing pursuits are a major component of the Flathead economy.

Back in 2015 when Daines was fishing up the North Fork with his Whitefish friend Bob Brown, the Beacon reported Brown saying that we need to give Daines time and called him a sincere acolyte of nature.

It takes bipartisanship to get big work done in the Flathead. Politicians need working relationships. None can go it alone.

This hardly means everyone agrees on all things. I’m silently pig-biting mad about some of the policy positions that many politicians take over time. Some of my own past public votes may feel scornful to pundits.

Yet on conservation, working forestlands, and recreation we find agreement and compromise. Getting along should make us proud to be a part of the Flathead.

Maybe I’m naive, believing in the power of community. I hope not; I’m a bit old for that kind of fancifulness. I enjoy reasonable people who work together to make big things happen, that last forever, and make the valley better.

I’ve been involved in conservation work for a long time. It’s where I engage and spend my free time, off the farm. On policy, I’ve been rhetorically shot at from the far right for even trying to conserve and the far left for not conserving nearly enough. I’ve grown to accept incremental change. I wish it were faster.

Thielman was kind enough to respond to my message, and his boss did well hiring the former Whitefish Bulldog. Daines deserves credit for working to conserve the economic driver of the Flathead, a place we simply call home. Hopefully he visits again and holds a townhall to engage with locals.