Historic moment for Montana: Public lands legislation passes Congress

Tester, Walsh push package across finish line, Tester speaks on Senate floor

(U.S. Senate) – The U.S. Senate today gave its stamp of approval to the historic public lands agreement negotiated by Montana’s Congressional delegation.

Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh worked with Senator-elect Steve Daines to include eight Montana lands bills in a broader lands package that passed the Senate today 89 to 11.

“I am proud of this historic agreement, and I am particularly proud today to be a Montanan,” Tester said on the Senate floor. “Montana is home to sky-touching mountains and beautiful plains. It’s home to hard-working men and women and to Native Americans with deep connections to the land. But it’s The Last Best Place because we are all of these things and because we are willing to work together to preserve and strengthen them.”

Tester’s Senate floor speech can be watched online HERE.

“Montana’s congressional delegation was able to put aside political differences by following the example set by of our fellow citizens,” Walsh said. “Passage of the North Fork withdrawal caps 40 years of Montanans working together to protect our outdoor heritage and strengthen the economy of the Flathead.”

The lands package is part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The lands package now heads to the President’s desk for his signature.

“As a Senator from Montana, it’s my responsibility to make sure we preserve these treasured places. And that we responsibly use our lands to advance the interests of our state,” Tester said. “These bills are the product of compromise led by folks on the ground and Montana’s Congressional delegation working together to move our state forward.”

The package includes:

Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act
Protects public access along the Front for hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts, designates 208,000 acres as a Conservation Management Area, adds 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, supports a noxious weed management plan, and allows for continued grazing access for Montana ranchers. Additionally, the bill releases approximately 14,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas in southeastern Montana and requires a new assessment of oil and gas potential in the Bridge Coulee and Musselshell Breaks Wilderness Study Areas.

North Fork Watershed Protection Act
Permanently protects the American side of the North Fork of the Flathead River Watershed by barring future mining or drilling on the affected 430,000 acres which lie adjacent to Glacier National Park.

Northern Cheyenne Lands Act
Restores to the Northern Cheyenne tribe the mineral rights to 5,000 acres containing coal deposits within their Tribal boundary and strengthens the tribe’s control over its land base, natural resources and trust funds. Restoring these rights corrects a federal error made over 100 years ago.

Cabin Fee Act
Provides certainty for about 700 Montana cabin owners on Forest Service land by establishing a fair and predictable system for setting cabin fees.

East Bench Irrigation District Act
Authorizes the Interior Department to extend the water contract between the U.S. and the East Bench Irrigation District for six more years.

Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act
Removes outdated federal statutes that currently prevent irrigation districts in Montana and other western states from developing hydropower on Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) canals, ditches, and conduits-four of which are in Montana.

Many Montana groups, businesses and individuals applauded today’s Senate approval:

Dusty Crary: “The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act is an insurance policy for those who come after us. This legislation does just what it needs to and not one thing more. I’m very proud to have been a part of creating the bill, and I am incredibly grateful to our delegation for coming together and getting this made-in-Montana bill signed into law.”

Dusty Crary works the family ranch outside of Choteau, Montana. He also runs an outfitter/guiding service.

Chuck Blixrud: “It was with great satisfaction that we learned that Congress passed the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. We have been residents of the “Front” our entire working lives and have always felt that it was under threats from many different directions. We have a national treasure here that really needs to be kept the way it is, and now will be. A place where one can come to “recharge their batteries” and leave without making any impact on the land and the environment, and when they return they can be assured the “Front” will remain as it is now. Many forward-thinking ranchers, farmers, retirees, business people, and outfitters have worked long and hard in bringing this forward, and it is our hope that folks will know how important it is that this bill is now law.”

Chuck and Sharon Blixrud have been residents of the “Front” their entire working lives. They spent 55 years in the outfitting and guiding business, sharing this land with many people who take time out of their busy schedules to immerse themselves in the beauty of the area. They own the 7 Lazy P guest ranch, which borders the public lands included in the Heritage Act.

Jim Klug: “Businesses that rely on Montana’s outdoors will closely watch the progress of this important legislation and we thank our congressional delegation for casting politics aside to do right by our public lands and the jobs that rely on them. These bills are a product of Montana, and they are right for Montana. Our economy cannot afford to keep these measures on the sidelines of Congress.”

Jim Klug is the founder of Yellow Dog Flyfishing and a member of Business for Montana’s Outdoors.

John Norman Maclean: “The Maclean cabin on Seeley Lake has served as a writing place and inspiration for over half a dozen books, including A River Runs through It and Fire on the Mountain, that enhance the history and culture of Montana. With the passage of the Cabin Fee Act, thanks to Sen. Tester’s leadership and the support of the Montana Congressional delegation, our family will have use of the cabin for present and future generations and hopefully add to this tradition, to everyone’s benefit.”

John Norman Maclean is a journalist, writer and cabin owner with deep Montana roots, as well as the son of the author of A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean.