U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte is following U.S. Sen. Steve Daines’ lead into the wilderness study area elimination fray, introducing two bills to strip protections from cherished public lands, seemingly with zero public input. He matched Daines’ legislation addressing U.S. Forest Service lands totaling 450,000 acres, and upped the ante to include over 350,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management wilderness study areas.
The wrath of public lands lovers statewide has been quick and hot. For good reason.
Collectively, we worked for the BLM and Forest Service for over 70 years, proudly acting as stewards of some of Montana’s — and America’s — most stunning, remote and cherished public lands. We managed many of the lands included in Gianforte’s bill, and spent countless days in the field exploring these public treasures.
So, we know a thing or two about the agency’s recommendations to Congress regarding future designations for these WSAs. Gianforte says the lands he wants to remove protections from were all determined not worthy of wilderness designation. Clearly, our freshman congressman didn’t do his homework.
Eight of the BLM WSAs in his bill were indeed recommended by the agency and Department of Interior for wilderness designation, as far back as the 1980s in recommendations to President Reagan and Congress. The Terry Badlands, Centennial Mountains, Seven Blackfoot, Ruby Mountains, Cow Creek, Blacktail Mountains and Antelope Creek — totaling almost 120,000 acres — all include lands recommended for wilderness designation.
More recently, BLM resource management plans re-affirmed these recommendations after years of public involvement and multi-stakeholder meetings. These planning processes re-inventoried these lands for wilderness values as well as timber, oil and gas and mining potential, which led to recommending them for wilderness. Yet, Gianforte’s bill does not designate a single acre of wilderness, instead stripping existing interim protections from every acre.
The eight ecologically diverse landscapes deemed worthy of wilderness designation are some of the most iconic and stunning in Montana. The Centennial Mountains — that rare east-west mountain range framing the Centennial Valley and Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge — are critical wildlife habitat for bear and wolverine. The sandstone bridges, spires and tabletops of Terry Badlands, carved by generations of erosion, have inspired generations of Montanans with the prairie’s beauty.
Gianforte’s bill also opens fresh threats to the Upper Missouri River Breaks. His bill strips protections from Cow Creek and Antelope Creek — both recommended for wilderness designation — yet again putting this beloved national monument at risk of road building, increased motorized use and industrial development. Last summer, thousands of Montanans spoke out against any changes in Montana’s monuments. Apparently, Gianforte didn’t consult his constituent’s comments before advancing his agenda.
We all deserve a voice in how our public lands are managed. Public processes that include diverse interests ensure the best possible use of these lands.
Gianforte hasn’t held any town hall meetings. He hasn’t met with diverse interests. He hasn’t solicited public comment from the communities bordering these lands. And so, we join thousands of Montanans in our outcry against such a blatant, top-down, special-interest-driven attack on our public lands.
We both built our lives working for the benefit of our public lands — protecting, maintaining and preserving our iconic wild landscapes for many generations to come. Finding resolution to wilderness study areas is something we all agree upon. However, that process must be collaborative and led by the people, for the people.
Representative Gianforte, abandon this legislation. Listen to your constituents and support existing collaborative efforts to collectively help shape the future of our public lands.