Tester’s wilderness bill: the right thing

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Conrad Anker

Etymology: the history of a linguistic form shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another.

As I reflect on our family vacation this past summer to the Pioneer Mountains, there is no finer attribute for our state than its name. Albeit with a slightly different pronunciation, Montana is mountain in Spanish. The early explorers named the state after the dominant geologic features. For the peaks that ring our valley, that nurture our rivers and provide cover for wildlife, there is no finer attribute. To live in place as scenic and unspoiled as Montana is pretty special. We are, by our own admission, privileged to inhabit this state. 

With rights come responsibilities. The beauty of Montana is in its unique wild feel. From the buffaloes and geysers of Yellowstone to the mountain goats and aquamarine lakes of Glacier, we have two iconic natural preserves within our boundaries. The parks, established by the federal government 137 and 99 years ago, are quite a draw for our state. Yes the parks are tremendous, yet between the two places is a large segment of nature that is home to animals, timber, water and opportunity for recreation. It is our responsibility, as the current generation, to take care of this heritage that defines Montana.

In July of 2009, Sen. Jon Tester introduced Senate Bill 1470, The Montana   Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, the first comprehensive land management bill in 26 years. The bill is a co-operative effort between the wood products industry, sportsmen, conservationists and motorized recreation groups to find a balance that benefits the wild heritage we share.   We’re grateful Sen. Max Baucus supports the bill. Congressman Dennis Rehberg has not announced a position. Endorsing Tester’s bill is a meaningful way to break the gridlock between the various stakeholders on our national forests. These groups have worked to create a bill that, in the spirit of working together, has a wide level of support.

To measure cooperation, we look at the diversity of the people who support the bill. The timber companies, tired of battling legal cases, are looking for clear direction on acreage that can be harvested. The cuts outlined in the bill will benefit local timber companies, hence the support from Sun Mountain Lumber, RY Timber, Roseburg Forest Products, Smurfit Stone and Pyramid Mountain Lumber. For our lands stressed by the pine bark beetle, fuel buildup and drought, this will lead to healthier forests. 

For sportsmen, the benefit equates to protected habitat, which will allow elk and similar game to find shelter. The balance between timber and habitat is supported by science. The habitat improvement will benefit today’s hunter along with tomorrow’s generation.

Part of the brokering required for this cooperation was accepting that all of one’s objectives might not be met. For conservationists, having more land designated as wilderness is certainly a sticking point. Conversely, the proposed 51 miles of motorized trail to be closed, out of 6,736 accessible miles, is a draw back for motorized users. When two disparate groups such as these both quibble, it is a sign that the act is indeed a balance of various user groups and their respective needs. With organizations as varied as Trout Unlimited, Troy Snowmobile Club, National Wildlife Federation, Kootenai Ridge Riders ATV Club, Montana Wilderness Association, The Wilderness Society, Montana Backcountry Horsemen, and Lincoln County Snow-Kats supporting the bill, it is difficult to argue that there is not broad support. 

The root of our state is in the mountains. The animals, trees and water that create this landscape need our stewardship. Sen. Tester’s bold plan is the most logical way to keep wild Montana healthy and create jobs. We are of the mountains, and we need to keep it that way.

Conrad Anker is a mountaineer and author. He lives with his family in Bozeman.