Montana Voices: Wake up, Montanans, and protect Wilderness Study Areas

Larch in fall splendor in the Sapphires Wilderness Study Area. (Montana Wilderness Association/Zack Porter)

What is it in Montana’s historical, social and perhaps genetic makeup that makes the citizenry elect people like Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte (D&G)? These are men who have not, do not and will not do what is best for Big Sky Country, but instead cave to the special interest groups that persist in following a longstanding tradition of environmental plundering (Remember Anaconda Copper?), foolhardy ideas that become law (Let’s deregulate the utilities!), and just plain nonsense (Allowing wild game to be hunted with spears is just common sense legislation!).

When will Montanans wake up to the fact that electing bad people to legislative positions seldom results in good legislation? D&G are consummate examples of this and show why the most conspicuous characteristic of a viable politician is that they have a soul — and that their soul does not reside in the center of the Earth.

D&G’s blasphemous bills — Svv. 2206, H.R. 5148 and H.R. 5149 — would release almost 700,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) to the clutches of industry and special interest groups, and reflect the misguided notion that they can somehow return to the Halcyon Days of unrestrained logging, mining and generalized industrial dominance.

Throw in unbridled off-road vehicles, snowmobiling and “other uses,” and we have multiple congressional subversions which would destroy the wild quality of these places — and the unique character of Montana. The D&G bills are, in effect, the largest reduction in protected public lands in Montana history.

What makes these WSAs so important?

Wilderness Study Areas, which are defined as “federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, and managed to preserve its natural conditions,” are those lands found suitable for wilderness, but lacking that official designation.

WSAs in Montana are wilder than half of all the national parks. The Sapphires and West Pioneers WSAs have more intact wildlife communities than 95 percent of the national parks in the Lower 48. These sacred lands typify the spirit of our state because nothing–absolutely nothing–defines Montana as the Last Best Place more than our wildlands and the wildlife which depend on these lands.

D&G — those unabashedly avaricious opportunists — feel that these WSAs have been “locked up” for far too long and that they should be conveniently accessible to all. The Wilderness Act’s architects did not set aside wild places solely to serve as organic theme parks for humans.

D&G completely ignore the multitude of benefits of wilderness besides recreation:  to include economics — as an air and water filtration system, as a natural laboratory, and finally, God’s own wild ungulate factory. And who can forget the famous quote: “Wilderness should exist intact solely for its own sake; no human justification, rationale, or excuse is needed.” D& G would do well to heed these words.

Considering only 109 million acres of designated wilderness remain as part of the 640 million acres of federal wildlands, these Montana treasures are fundamental to our extraordinary American legacy. Once developed, they will never be the same.  The state — and the nation — will be sadly poorer for it. D&G have yet to grasp this and will, in the end, suffer accordingly.

Regime change is comin’, folks–and not a moment too soon.