take a hike….to save montana’s wild lands


by problembear

“we expect the good citizens of philadelphia to take good care of and protect the liberty bell. shouldn’t montana do the same with our wild lands?”

one of the best parts of the early false spring days of february in missoula is the warming sun triggers thoughts of summer wilderness trails leading around boulders and subalpine fir to a hidden basin where a bear can find solace from the fray of political and societal issues and pressures. it is the memory of a tiny two inch wide spring which gurgles beneath a rock ledge. it is the daydream thoughts of a soft fluttering of wings above and the startling call of the robber jay as it steals greedily and boldly closer to my lunch. it is the soft rustle of grass as a round eared pika peaks furtively toward me with her small bundle of “hay”.

wilderness thoughts come every spring even though i visit less and less these days into that wild part of the world where i feel safest and most myself. it is interesting to feel those stirrings of passionate beliefs come welling out of me like a force fed spring from a snowfield in july. a post by Bill Schneider over at New West a few weeks ago triggered old feelings about those old wilderness battles with a vengeance. i became predictably problemish in the discussion and the entire discussion between commenters leaves me wondering where does montana go from here.

Bill is getting weary of the battle of the greens and i cannot blame him. my own personal history of working to save wilderness mostly occured in oregon (back then called the Oregon Wilderness Coalition) during the period of 1974 through 1984. in that time i do not recall the enmity between groups in oregon that seems to occur here in montana. for that reason (and because in 1985, when i moved here i did not feel qualified to speak about lands i knew little about) i kind of stepped back and played a more supportive role on the sidelines as i watched folks like Mike Bader, Bob Yetter, Howie Wolke and other men and women battle the wilderness war for a couple of decades here. i could see that the rivalry between the Alliance For The Wild Rockies and other more staid groups like the Montana Wilderness Association and the Sierra Club was reaching a fevered pitch which absolutely precluded any meaningful communication between them.

this is a shame. here we sit in montana – surrounded by so much wild land in what i consider the great crossroads of wilderness in the contiguous united states and nobody can seem to come to the table and agree about how much and what we should save. it seems absurd to me, but i refrained from bellyaching about it because i was a native oregon black bear who had made his home among grizzly bears it seems and sticking my head up just didn’t seem too smart. but now that i have lived here almost 24 years i guess i am feeling it is time for some straight talk about what i think needs to be done here.

The Montana Wilderness Association. MWA needs to get on the dime and start protecting some wild lands. it is an organization that has been around since 1958 and in it’s first twenty five years it was a primal force in saving wild lands in montana. now, however, MWA seems to be more interested in it’s own precious credibility among law-makers and the powerful rather than advocates for Wilderness. where is the zeal to save wild lands?

other Montana groups Sierra Club? Audobon? Wilderness Society? where the hell are you guys-women? i don’t see anything from any of you on protecting wilderness this year and i read a lot of stuff.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies AWR probably needs to come to the table with more respect for the MWA and it’s viewpoints in order to move it’s current bill in congress closer to enactment. simply throwing insults at each other will get no one anywhere. (i am guilty of this also but today i am trying to be objective in thinking exactly what is needed to protect our most precious montana legacies for future generations and to encourage a dialogue which is more respectful of each other’s viewpoints.)

there is another country wide omnibus multi wilderness bill currently trying to migrate it’s way through congress which very conspicuously contains no wilderness proposals from montana. as someone who has supported AWR from the sidelines all these years it just seems like montana’s wilderness groups are not doing enough to come to the table and talk. how can we expect reasonable lawmakers like tester and baucus and a predominately democratic congress and a supportive president to help us if we wilderness supporters can’t agree on anything?

it seems we are acting childish and stupid right when the winds of change are most receptive to protecting these lands.  this is not a plea from me so much as a plea from the lands themselves for all you humans to change your stupid ways and finally come together and talk so we can be saved.by the way there is a great resource for some information available on this from missoula’s own aldo leopold wilderness institute to help fuel your comments with specific details.

so please consider this post to be an open thread about how you would like montana to approach the unapproachable stalemate of wilderness. i realize there is a lot of emotion out there about this topic. (only gun control gets more comments) but i will try my best to restrain myself and other’s comments from straying past the bounds of a good rollicking, chair-throwing, honest debate here. but try to keep it on topic. of course, i realize the economy takes precedent in these days (people are hurting out there) but i just thought a little hike into the wilderness issue might be nice- get our minds off the societal day to day survival things and think a little about our legacy as westerners and as montanans.  i will sit back and let people talk without too much interference on this because my paws are tired from all this typing and i think i smell fresh cinnamon rolls wafting from a certain little rodents den…..now, take a hike…


  1. Wildlands Lover

    Problembear, you lamenting the division in environmental groups is something I can really relate to. It has pained me to watch members of the environmental community fall victim to the kind factionalism and clique-ism that the founders of our republic warned of.

    What really pains me is that the other side-industry proponents mainly-don’t suffer this kind of division. It’s the sad reality that those working for money tend to find easier consensus than those working from the heart, who can let differing versions of their own idealism cloud judgment. Appreciated your post very much.

  2. Matthew Koehler

    Good post problembear.

    I guess I’ll start off your offer for this “to be an open thread about how you would like Montana to approach the unapproachable stalemate of wilderness.”

    Well, contrary to population “rural myth” Montana actually is far behind most other western states when it comes to Wilderness protection in terms of acres protected.

    Fortunately, due to the hard work of many unsung heros over the past 40 years, Montana is lucky to currently have about 6 million acres of officially inventoried roadless wildlands. I believe that any talk of a Montana Wilderness bill needs to start with this 6 million acres of roadless wildlands and work from there.

    If the resource extraction industries, or the Montana Wilderness Association, think that these inventoried roadless wildlands shouldn’t be protected as Wilderness the burden of proof should be on them.

    They should have to name which roadless area they’d like to see opened up for development and what type of development (logging, mining, roadbuilding, oil and gas, etc) they’d like to see in these areas.

    This is a much different approach then a proposal I hear through the grapevine is coming down the pipeline. That proposal, I’m told, basically looks at only 1.4 million acres of the 6 million acres that certainly warrant Wilderness protection.

    We aren’t creating any more Wilderness in this country and it’s therefore a finite resource.

  3. JC

    Ok, problembear. You called this an open thread, so I’m going to fill in some of the blanks you’ve so graciously created.

    First off, though, I’m going to clear up some history. Once upon a time, MWA was a state-wide hiking group, pretty much at the forefront of wilderness advocacy. In the mid-80s, though, many younger people were trying to get involved in the organization, to help steer its direction. There were many different ways that this happened: board elections; conventions; membership; staffing; public debates, etc.

    It became apparent to many of us that the positioning of MWA in the wilderness debate was not one that suited us. And we were failing in our attempts to try and inject new blood and ideas into the organization. So we decided to take an independent direction from the mainstream wilderness movement.

    Many of us became involved in Earth First!, primarily because of the no-compromise attitude it advocated about wilderness and biodiversity. We created a group called the Americans for Wilderness Coalition, and put forth our first idea about wilderness–MINILPA (the Montana Idaho National Land Preservation Act).

    MINILPA basically took the stance that all roadless lands in the two states should be protected. It was a principled stance guided by the conservative notion that we only had so much roadless land, that it was disappearing at an alarming rate, and we had so many people, and they kept increasing at equally alarming rates. It became apparent that one was quickly overrunning the other. People had plenty of voices, the wilderness has none–only the sound of the rushing stream, the wind in the trees, and the howl of the wolf.

    So we advocated a no-compromise approach, because we believed in wilderness, and that there were plenty of other places to develop and log. It was an ethical, not a practical or self-serving choice we made. Likewise, on the anti-wilderness side, there were groups and businesses that advocated no more wilderness. So MINILPA was an attempt to balance the debate, and give voice to the unheard.

    MINILPA quickly became popular among wilderness purists, and young activists. About 1987 we decided to look at the landscape, and take a bioregional approach, ignoring state and federal boundaries. We quickly realized the importance of this sort of vision, and began to study the roadless issue in depth–mapping, looking through RARE inventories, studying specis habitat, ground truthing, looking at climate change, and talking with USFS staff, and state, county and local officials and the public.

    What we decided was that what we had was a world-class ecosystem that when looked at in its entirety was unrivaled across the globe. So we set out to give it an identity. We chose the “Wild Rockies” because that signified what we were seeing. We considered but rejected the “High” or Wide” Rockies, and a half dozen other contenders.

    So the Wild Rockies it was–complete with a local activist contingency, Wild Rockies EF to champion it. While that was all fun and games, EF was not going to get anything accomplished in the way of legislation (and lost much in the public’s perception), so Mike Bader came to some of us, having decided to start a nonprofit called the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (eventually complete with a lobbying arm called the Wild Rockies Action Fund). MINILPA grew into NREPA (the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act), and took in all of the roadless lands in 5 states (eastern OR & WA, ID, MT, WY) and the southern parts of two provinces (AB and BC) in Canada.

    The goal of all this was to advocate for wilderness and the species that lived within and depended upon it for survival. NREPA comes complete with extensive land and habitat mapping, and a whole host of other data. We pioneered using GIS as an analysis tool for wilderness protection at the bioregional level, in a joint mapping project with the U of M.

    NREPA was intended to be a starting point for the debate on wilderness for those who believed in the preservation of all things wild—not necessarily the end point. There were plenty of industry groups who opposed any new wilderness, philosophically. And there were a lot of groups in the middle–like MWA–that were all for the give and take they thought was necessary to move legislation, and generate club memberships.

    But we viewed the wilderness debate through different lenses–from the macro level looking at the bioregion (and its global interactions) as a whole, and the micro looking at the needs of individual species, soil and watersheds. MWA took more of the “area” approach–we like hiking in this range of peaks and these valleys and want to save them. But we don’t really care about that range of peaks and valley over there, so we’ll let that be traded away and “released” from wilderness in order to save our little islands for hiking.

    We quickly saw the Achilles heel of MWA’s approach. Not so unlike Obama’s approach to the stimulus bill, where he anticipated what the republicans would want, and included much of that in the bill, MWA anticipated (and actively worked with) industry and minimal-wilderness groups in order to seem reasonable. So they came to the table with “compromise bills.” But when those bills reached the USFS and Congress, inevitably wilderness (like the components of the stimulus) was thrown out of them to continue to compromise with anti-wilderness forces. Their bills always got weaker. Most failed through lack of vision and purpose. The purpose of those bills it always seemed was to cater to industry and ORV groups in order to place a moniker on a piece of already roadless and mostly protected land.

    As many have already acknowledged that Obama should not have gone into negotiations with republicans with a pre-compromised stimulus position, so we view that wilderness negotiations not be pre-compromised. Inevitably, the legislative process will eat away at whatever amount of wilderness is contained within a bill, in order to get passed.

    Hence the necessity of NREPA: to initiate add sustain the dialog over the long term about wilderness lands from a principled position. No matter what the economic or political environment is, NREPA will never change. In addition to this principled position, AWR and other NREPA advocates argued that these roadless lands were public lands: they belonged to the American public–not just to the local groups or the special interests. That is what drives the interest of Congress and legislators from areas outside of the Wild Rockies to introduce and advocate for maximum protection of these wild lands: they provide benefits to all Americans from public land, indeed they benefit all species in many ways.

    So over the years, the Alliance and its member organizations have worked hard to educate the public about the values of wilderness protection. And we have worked hard to educate Congress about the value of these specific lands. So when and if an attempt to allocate roadless lands to wilderness or other uses comes before Congress, the principled position will already be in place in order to advocate for maximum wilderness designation.

    We have yet to see such approaches brought to Congress in which NREPA supporters could support the release of some lands to other uses in exchange for wilderness designation—the battle has been an unbalanced one so far. Better that the lands remain unallocated, and protected in a variety of ways (Wilderness Study Areas, administrative designations, habitat issues, lawsuits, etc.) than “hard released” so as to disappear from roadless inventories altogether.

    So today I see nothing new from MWA and whatever coalition of industry and sportsman’s groups it is working with in order to “precompromise” or make decisions about millions of acres of land behind closed doors. MWA’s process is only achievable by its refusal to acknowledge that the American people in totality have vested interests in these lands, whether they are aware of it or not: clean air and water, abundant wildlife, CO2 uptake, climate moderation, etc. MWA’s position is necessarily self-serving. It meets MWA’s purpose, not wilderness’ purpose. NREPA, on the other hand, belongs to the American people, to the land, and to the species that live within its environs. It is not subservient to economic, political or special interests.

    And many of us grow old and weary of watching the same old charades from the same cast of characters play out: special interests and politicians, lobbyists and people-pleasers. And that is why NREPA will sit patiently in the halls of Congress waiting for the next wilderness “release bill” to come along, so that it can revive the discussions about the wild lands in this place we call the Wild Rockies.

    It is a bulwark against the forces of development and anti-environmentalism. A bulwark that I am proud to say I have spent a majority of my adult life studying, working on, writing about, advocating for, and living and recreating within.

    • Man, that’s quite a comment JC. I appreciate your info and perspective as well as the work you’ve done for wilderness. Thanks too for the post bear.

    • Matthew Koehler

      JC, Thanks for your awesome post with all the history! Important stuff for people who care about Wilderness to read. I bet that was fun for you to write as well! Hang in there and thanks for being a true Wilderness hero to me and many others! Love, Matty

  4. Oyster Pirate

    When I was in school in the early 90’s, there was a Wilderness bill in Congress sponsered by Pat Williams. It did not protect all of the RARE II country, but did protect quite a bit of territory. Pat and his bill were absolutely VILIFIED by people in the Wilderness activist community because the bill did not cover everything they wanted. Pat Williams, of all people, who would be one of the most liberal and environmental Congressmen in Washington if he were still in offfice.
    Because this “incrementalist” bill failed to pass (not that it was killed by a lack of support from environmental organizations), there has been NO additional Wilderness protection in Montana for 20+ years. However, there HAS been incremental development in that time — road building and especially mineral leasing. NREPA supporters have let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Wilderness designation is permanent. Anytime there is a chance to put a “W” on some wilderness, that opportunity should be seized. THEN, move on to the next piece of ground. Failure to capitalize the “w” doesn’t “open up” land for development. That is a bit of Rovian decepto-speak that I have always resented. It creates an air of crisis that may create a positive environment for fundraising, but a poor environment for result-oriented policymaking. Perhapse this is why there has been no new Montana Wilderness for so long.
    NREPA is a means to an end — one possible path to a desired end state. How many ways are there to get there?
    As an aside, the United Nations figured out long ago that to protect natural landscapes, you have to have buy-in from, and collaberation with, the people who live in them. Why should it be any different here in the US?

    • JC

      “there has been NO additional Wilderness protection”

      That would be wrong. There has been no additional wilderness “designation” or allocation. Existing, undesignated roadless lands remain protected under a variety of administrative and legislative mandates.

      “Wilderness designation is permanent.”

      Wrong. What Congress designates, it can undesignate. Likewise improper Wilderness management can impact wilderness values as they were laid out in the Wilderness Act. Conversely, hard release permanently destroys wilderness values. Yet a “wilderness designation” does nothing more than apply a moniker to lands that already are wilderness. Wilderness cannot be created, it can only be destroyed.

      “Wilderness bill in Congress sponsered by Pat Williams… did protect quite a bit of territory.”

      No, Rep. Williams HR 2473, which he introduced in 1993 would have released over 4 million acres of land for development and/or motorized recreation. It would not have “created” one acre of wilderness. It would have just “designated” a small amount of existing roadless lands.

      Williams’ bill died a timely death in the Senate. There is a nice history of NREPA in the 90s from the WRAF, and here is a snippet:

      “June 1, 1994
      Lee Newspapers releases the results of its statewide opinion poll which shows that 32% of Montanans support NREPA, compared to just 16%, 14% and 14% for the Baucus, Williams and Burns bills, respectively. In just over four years since the founding of the Wild Rockies Action Fund, the amount of people in Montana who support wilderness designation for all roadless areas triples from 10% to 32%.”

      So Oyster Pirate, if you are going to revise history, at least get the facts right.

      “NREPA is a means to an end”

      No, NREPA was always the starting point: a description of what we have, and what we would lose as land is “hard released” in exchange for designation. You make the mistake of assuming that the end result is designation. The end result of NREPA has always been to protect wild lands, however that may be achieved. The goal of NREPA has never been to release lands.

      I have to laugh at Schneider’s assertion in the NewWest article that NREPA has failed. No, NREPA has been a success beyond our wildest dreams of 20 years ago. It has been responsible for educating Congress and the American public about the value of the roadless lands in the Wild Rockies. It has prevented short-sighted legislation from irreversibly destroying the wilderness character of upwards of 24 million acres of land. It has kept the likes of MWA from colluding with multinational corporations and off-road interests to give away irreplaceable lands in exchange for a “W” feather in their hat.

      “Failure to capitalize the “w” doesn’t “open up” land for development. That is a bit of Rovian decepto-speak that I have always resented.”

      Look at any piece of USFS land that is not designated wilderness, or contained within NREPA. There is some land prescription or use that is contrary to wilderness values. That is why they are not included in NREPA. When land is hard released, it is given a land management prescription that is other than wilderness, thus impacts can occur that are contrary to wilderness values. How extreme those impacts are vary with prescription.

      This “Rovian decepto-speak” that you resent, you can save for politicians who lie to their country in order to fight preemptive wars, and to feather the pockets of their contributors. It is laughable that you would apply that phrase to all of the Montanans that have worked so hard to piece together NREPA.

      “It creates an air of crisis that may create a positive environment for fundraising.”

      You obviously haven’t pulled the 990 of AWR or any other of the Alliance’s member organizations lately. No, it’s the likes of MWA that put out the clarion call of crisis and opportunity in order to drive grants, contributions and memberships. And just what has the Montana WILDERNESS Association delivered in the way of wilderness allocations to its members in the last 30 years or more? ZILCH. Thankfully.

  5. Oyster Pirate

    If Wilderness can’t be created but only destroyed, and Congress can undo what it does, why bother with wilderness “designation”? Designation is THE MOST effective form of wilderness preservation. NREPA itself acknowleges this in that it’s biggest selling point was always the “protection” of 6 million acres by “designating” them Wilderness. Perhaps “wilderness” can’t be created, but “Wilderness” surely can. That’s why the Wilderness Act is so important in preserving wilderness values.
    “And just what has the Montana WILDERNESS Association delivered in the way of wilderness allocations to its members in the last 30 years or more? ZILCH. Thankfully.” And your record is any better? Increasing support for “W”s for roadless areas from 10% to 32%? Didn’t you just say “W”s aren’t important? By the way, how did the numbers for people opposed to ANY new designation change over that time?
    “This “Rovian decepto-speak” that you resent, you can save for politicians who lie to their country in order to fight preemptive wars, and to feather the pockets of their contributors. It is laughable that you would apply that phrase to all of the Montanans that have worked so hard to piece together NREPA.” You say this in the same comment in which you also say “(NREPA) has prevented short-sighted legislation from irreversibly destroying the wilderness character of upwards of 24 million acres of land. (NREPA) has kept the likes of MWA from colluding with multinational corporations and off-road interests to give away irreplaceable lands…” and “hard release permanently destroys wilderness values.” “Irreversable”? “24 million acres”? “Multinational corperations”? Good Lord! How terrifying! Scare tactics are scare tactics. I don’t care what your intentions are. Not only do I resent being bullshitted, I also don’t like it when people try to scare me. It may be an effective short-term political tactic, but is a terrible basis for long term public policymaking. Pro-development folks are bad about this, as well, don’t get me wrong. But scare-mongering from people who claim to want the same things I do (long term land management which promotes and protects wilderness values) poorly serves that goal.
    And since we’re gonna argue semantics, I never said the Williams bill would’ve created wilderness. It would, however, have created Wilderness, which, as land management mandates go, is about as writ in stone as they come.

    • JC

      No NREPA’s biggest selling point was never just designation. It’s biggest selling point was that it was a scientific inquiry studying a bioregion, and cataloging its assets, and then putting them into context to educate the American public and Congress. It was the product of 10’s of thousands of hours of work by scientists, politicians, advocates, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals. And it was all done in the open, not behind closed doors.

      From HR 980 (which already has 59 cosponsers–read wilderness defenders):

      “To designate certain National Forest System lands and public lands under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior in the States of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming as wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, wildland recovery areas, and biological connecting corridors, and for other purposes.”

      “And your record is any better?”

      We’ve prevented the hard release of well over 4 million acres of roadless land in Montana. I’d call that successful.

      “may be an effective short-term political tactic”

      Um, I’ve been involved in this debate for almost 30 years. there’s nothing “short term” about NREPA.

      “But scare-mongering from people who claim to want the same things I do (long term land management which promotes and protects wilderness values) poorly serves that goal.”

      I don’t claim to want the same thing you do. In fact I want something different from you. I don’t believe in wholesale hard release in exchange for converting wilderness into Wilderness.

      “I also don’t like it when people try to scare me.”

      Then grow up and learn how to not be afraid of the truth.

      “It would, however, have created Wilderness, which, as land management mandates go, is about as writ in stone as they come.”

      You need to take a refresher course in federal land management policies. There are a variety of management prescriptions and land designations that meet the goals for NREPA. Wilderness designation is only one. Many of NREPAs lands already fall in protective designations like Wilderness Study Areas, and other roadless area management zones designed to protect wilderness character.

      NREPA also contains other provisions than Wilderness, as the Preamble lays out above.

  6. this has been fascinating and pretty instructive to read everyone’s comments. let’s see if i can boil it down to easy to understand for bears points:

    1. designating Wilderness for some wild land would not necessarily be a good thing if it releases the majority of montana’s roadless lands to multiple abuse.

    2. simply proposing NREPA bills in congress protects the lands until there is enough political will to protect them at some point in the future.

    3. pushing MWA toward a wilderness proposal at this point would be detrimental to our remaining undesignated wild lands in general because they (and other more mainstream groups) would agree to terms unacceptable to NREPA supporters in order to pass a Wilderness bill.

    i hope i got that right. if not feel free to correct me. and if i am correct in my limited understanding of why montana has not passed a wilderness bill in 25 years i think i understand why baucus and tester (and probably schweitzer too) avoid the subject and seem reluctant to pull this hot potato out of the oven. that is a stalemate alright.

    wouldn’t itbe betterto have everyone gather together in one room someplace and try to come up with a way to protect the most important lands under wilderness for now without necessarily releasing the rest of the land to development. maybe some interim management level which protects the options for future generations?

    • JC


      1) you are correct

      2) NREPA’s presence in Congress provides no tangible protection–it creates no “reservation” of wilderness character. It has no legal standing as to what may eventually happen to those lands. What it does is educate Congress on the lands we have from both a macro and micro nature, so that they can make intelligent decisions, when faced with bills that more focused on releasing lands from wilderness consideration.

      3) basically correct. Each wilderness proposal stands on its own merits. If a small proposal were introduced that were to protect roadless lands without hard releasing other lands, then NREPA supporters would get behind it. We’ve never said we wouldn’t support piece-meal allocation legislation. We’re just opposed to wholesale hard release.

      We have had a Montana wilderness bill in the last 25 years. Reagan vetoed the 1988 bill that would have designated 1.4 million acres of land Wilderness: “Mr. Reagan acted as he did because he wanted to put only half the 1.4 million acres into permanently protected wilderness status, said Marlin Fitzwater, the White House spokesman.”

      “wouldn’t it be better to have everyone gather together in one room someplace and try to come up with a way to protect the most important lands under wilderness for now without necessarily releasing the rest of the land to development.”

      That’s what we did with NREPA. MWA and businesses were invited to the table. The problem is that industry and MWA have always come in with about a 2 or 3:1 ratio of release to designation.

      Make no mistake, the central stumbling block to wilderness legislation always revolves around release.

  7. klemz

    MWA is about as useful as Natalie Wood at Mavericks.

    I have nothing substantive to add to what’s already been written here, except to suggest the following: Just walk in the front door and ask a regional Democratic congressman with a strong conservation record — Minnick and Tester, basically — why they won’t back NREPA.

    Fascinating stuff this Mountain West politics.

  8. Oyster Pirate

    Please explain “hard release”. Without substantial changes to a Forest’s Forest Plan, there can be no change in management priorities for a particular piece of ground. That would require NEPA, public comment, etc. Exclusion from a Wilderness bill doesn’t change that, nor would it remove a piece of ground from the RARE inventory, or un-recommend it for wilderness designation. That’s Forest Service; I have no idea about Dep’t of Interior land. Thanks…

    • JC

      Congress can override management prescriptions in Forest Plans. And in fact, most all pieces of Wilderness legislation do just that. Congress wants to change a land management zone from one of roadless character to one of timber harvest, it can do so.

      That is hard release: when Congress essentially rewrites the prescriptions of a Forest Plan to take lands out of protective roadless management zones and puts them into zones that allow motorized travel and resource development.

      You forget that Congress created FLPMA and NEPA. And Congress can manage public lands how through legislative fiat.

      here take a look at this sample of release language in the current Omnibus Lands Bill:

      “(c) Release of Wilderness Study Areas-
      (1) FINDING- Congress finds that, for the purposes of section 603 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1782), the public land in the County administered by the Bureau of Land Management has been adequately studied for wilderness designation.
      (2) RELEASE- Any public land described in paragraph (1) that is not designated as wilderness by subsection (a)(1)–
      (A) is no longer subject to section 603(c) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1782(c)); and
      (B) shall be managed in accordance with applicable law and the land management plans adopted under section 202 of that Act (43 U.S.C. 1712).”

      That is hard release. Better that land stays designated and protected as a Wilderness Study Area than go through this process.

  9. Oyster Pirate

    Oh yeah, despite my grumpiness, I surely appreciate seeing a substative debate on wilderness in a forum not beholden to “objectivity” ie giving equal column inches to obvious BS. Montanans For Multiple Use, I’m looking at you…

  10. It seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong here, that in the sit downs with various citizen groups and wilderness groups and industry reps the wilderness advocates approach the negotiations with the attitude that they’d best be willing to accept what industry is willing to give, as if these public lands were industry’s to give in the first place. This strikes me as being ass-backwards — these are not industry’s lands to be doled out as they see fit. They are the public commons, and as Matthew pointed out, the burden of proof should be on industry.

    As far as an interim plan to protect undesignated lands for the future goes pbear, isn’t that what the Roadless Rule was intended for?

  11. Oyster Pirate

    Roadless areas have been managed as wilderness for 30 years because of Forest policy, not because of NREPA’s presence in Congress. Nor does “hard release” REQUIRE road building, logging, etc. All of the pro-NREPA objections to wilderness bills in the past have implied that, as soon as the W gets hung somewhere, the D-9s are waiting to roll everywhere else. In other words, “Be afraid, wilderness lovers!” As I said before, scare-mongering is scare-mongering, regardless of who does it.

    I’m not saying that the past MT Wilderness bills were great, nor should we sell out wilderness for Wilderness. As you say, Congress can pretty much do what it wants. That’s what they’ve done so far, NREPA or no. However, thus far, wilderness values in non-Wilderness areas have been protected by ordinary everyday Forest policy (backed with public comment and community involvement).

    From HR 980 (which already has 59 cosponsers–read wilderness defenders):
    “To designate certain National Forest System lands and public lands under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior in the States of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming as wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, wildland recovery areas, and biological connecting corridors, and for other purposes.”

    A “selling point” and a goal are two different animals. You’re right; NREPA’s selling point is that it is science-based and, broadly speaking, nobody profits from it. However, it sounds like “designation” is in fact NREPA’s goal. Maybe not all as Wilderness Act “Wilderness” but designated nonetheless.
    If you want to engender opposition to wilderness from folks all across “the States of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming” just go ahead and cram all that designation down their throats from “Worshington”. That tactic has gone nowhere for years. It has, however, galvanized the pro-development people into a movement which has threatened wilderness values in those states (Dirk Kempthorne, anyone?). As a result of the polarized debate of the last 20 years, the most powerful management tool in the wilderness lover’s toolbox, Wilderness, is now for all practical purposes off the table. How is that good for us?

    You are right, though. You don’t need Wilderness to have wilderness. A person can freeze to death just about anywhere around here.

    “Then grow up and learn how to not be afraid of the truth.”
    As far as growing up, that prolly ain’t gonna happen. I have, tho, learned to beware those claiming to posess “truth”, as you do.

    • JC

      If you would have had your way, we would have already lost over 4 million acres of wilderness land in Montana, to gain a bit over a million acres of designated Wilderness.

      You have your priorities, I have mine. If you want to blame NREPA and its supporters for “galvaniz[ing] the pro-development people into a movement” that is your prerogative.

      I guess it is easier for you to judge those who act with principle more harshly than you would judge those without. Rather in vogue these days.

  12. Lizard

    like klemz i have nothing substantive to add, just a quick thank you for interesting dialogue. it’s good to shut up and learn something once in a awhile.

  13. i too want to thank everyone here for a very enlightening discussion about just what ticks beneath the surface of wilderness politics in montana. i must admit i was a bit baffled about NREPA although i have and do support it, but jc clears up a lot of my misconceptions. the reliance on science rather than politics to guide us here seems to be the best way to go. so this vilifies my intuition. but then, isn’t saving as much wild land as possible in the onslaught of relentless western civilization’s technological achievements really the only way to go here.

    which brings us to the elephant in the room- MWA, why would an organization which touts itself as existing to preserve wilderness for future generations cut montana’s future short by pressing for hard release of any wild lands? I would expect industry to press for this but why would MWA do it? it seems disingenuous for an organization to solicit membership and donations based on preservation of wild lands when in fact MWA seems to want to limit it.

    of course, no one from MWA joined in this discussion so perhaps it is unfair to judge them without hearing their side of the story so this is an invitation to do so. if anyone who supports MWA would like to tell us why they support hard release of roadless lands it would really be helpful to our understanding and perhaps open a dialogue that might prove fruitful. at this point i really don’t see what can be gained by avoiding the inevitable. sooner or later, the diverse groups who support wilderness in Montana need to come to the table and talk. either that, or we risk allowing washington to do it for us. which can be good or bad depending on the national political winds of change. right now- things look ok but what about two or four years from now? that is what troubles me.

  14. Matthew Koehler

    Problembear, Don’t expect anyone from MWA to be part of this Wilderness dialogue. That’s how they roll these days…although as JC has proven with his remarkable complete history throughout this comment thread, that’s how MWA used to operate.

    Once the Beaverhead Deal was announced (which none of us had any knowledge of ahead of time, despite the fact that many of us were successfully working together on roadless protection issues once Bush sent the Roadless Rule back to the states to decide) we tried a few times to get MWA to be part of honest dialogue about Wilderness and collaboration at regional and national conferences and they refused to participate. I should mention that at a national conference on collaboration that we helped organize in 2006, there was zero support for MWA’s Beaverhead approach.

    MWA’s outright refusal to have open and honest dialogue with other dedicated Wilderness supporters about the future of Wilderness in Montana should speak volumes.

  15. forting up and stonewalling is the preferred choice of communication when an entity or agency has a lot to hide.

    pretty arrogant and petty behavior from an organization which purports to work in the conservation community.

    the invitation to tell their side of the story was met by crickets, which in the blogging and investigative journalist world would merit more attention. i am no journalist but perhaps this should be looked at more closely by those with credentials.

    but i am a very persistent bear and the silence only makes me more interested in what is going on over there in that office of MWA in Helena. everyone here can look for more posts and comments from me in the future regarding wilderness and the stubborn refusal on MWA’s part to communicate with interested montanans and fellow wilderness supporters to enable us to move past the stalemate. as i said in my initial post, how can we expect politicians to help us when we cannot even communicate with each other?

    • JC

      You sure know how to pick at a scab!

      This should be interesting, should MWA choose to come forward and engage in dialog. ;-)

  16. ochenski

    A missing piece of history here is the infamous En Libra document initiated by Republican Governor Marc Racicot in the mid-90s and “published” by the Western Governors’ Association. This document defined “collaboration” as the tool of choice in solving Western natural resource issues — including wilderness.

    Those of you with good memories will recall that Racicot established and funded his Consensus Council to go forward and “solve” our debates by appointing hand-picked members to deal with pressing issues and then bringing “consensus-based, collaborative solution” to the legislature.

    In effect, the whole concept of collaboration is that those who “collaborate” are the only ones worth listening to and those who advocate wind up being termed “environmental extremists.”

    It worked like a charm, and I have to give some credit to the Repubs who thought it up. Since then, almost all foundation funding has flowed to groups who claim, endlessly, to “collaborate.” MWA would be one of those groups, as would TU and the other collaborators on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership. The formula is simple: “Collaborate” and get funded — or advocate by fighting for what you really want, and be passed by as inherently conservative foundation board members desperately seek to avoid supporting the “extremists.”

    Adopting the vernacular of your opponents — and their tools as well — has, in large part, contributed to the fracturing of the environmental and wilderness movements in the West and in Montana. MWA calls collaboration “a tool,” but when you look at the long-term consequences (like having to “save the timber infrastructure” by logging roadless lands), it makes it clear that collaboration is much more of a “fool” than a “tool.” It fools some into thinking they’re doing something when, in reality, we’re sitting in neutral revving the engine through endless collaborative meetings while the resource extraction industry continues on its merry way.

    This isn’t just a lesson for the past, it’s a lesson for the future. Just look at what’s happening at the legislature, when Matty Koehler turns out to be the ONLY opponent to the bill to allow counties to simply declare national forests “decayed” and start logging them. Where was MWA (who has its offices in Helena only a couple blocks from the Capitol)? Well, they couldn’t very well come in and testify against a logging bill while they’re busy collaborating with timber mills now, could they? My goodness no, collaboration having successfully tied their hands. So, Matty gives the only opposing testimony to the blatantly unconstitutional bill and is backed up by whom? Not MWA, but the Regional Forester Tom Tidwell, who basically echoed Matty’s testimony, albeit as an “informational” witness.

    How’s that for ironic, folks?

    Prior to this idea that the only policies we could or should pursue are those that come out of phony “collaborative” processes, all bills, no matter who brought them to Congress (or the Montana Legislature), were open to discussion, debate, and amendment. The idea that once the enviros “cut the deal” with their fellow collaborators it is set in concrete has always been bogus. And remember, when the Republicans, who held 2/3 majorities in both houses of the Montana Legislature in 1995, with Racicot in the Gov’s office, decided to push through what were then called “the bad water bills” that trashed Montana’s water quality standards, there was no mention of collaboration. They stuffed it right down our throats through sheer political power and never paid a bit of attention to anything the enviros had to say. Nor did Racicot hesitate to sign them into law, where they still exist, despite 4 years of a Democratic Governor who claims to be “clean and green” while leaving the worst injuries ever inflicted on Montana’s formerly model “non-degradation” water protection laws in place. Handy, though, for energy development, not having to worry too much about those pesky water quality regs.

    NREPA is, at its foundational level, just another piece of legislation that is subject to all the discussion, debate, and amendments of any other piece of legislation. If the NREPA naysayers truly wanted to get more Montana wilderness (big W or little w), they’d get off their butts, bring whatever arguments they have to the table over NREPA, suggest amendments, and work the bill through the process. But no. Instead we have been sold a bill of goods from our Congressional delegation for the last 20 years that a Montana wilderness bill has to come “from the ground up” (a concept wholly embraced by Conrad Burns who, despite his promise to do so, never brought a scintilla of “resolution” to the issue). Besides eliminating the need for their leadership (remember that word? It used to be applied to Senators like Lee Metcalf), it blows off the opportunity to work with, not against, NREPA for the benefit of future generations by ADVOCATING, not collaborating — a worn out, unproductive scam foisted on us by Montana’s former Republican Governor and his cronies in industry that has worked all too well in the ensuing years.

  17. i guess that is what you get when you elect a lawyer as governor – that and higher utility bills.

    so this means that montana’s wilderness is held hostage by rich industrialists and their friends while montanans are forced to beg scraps from their table in order to protect our wild lands. that’s just great.

    money always calls the shots. i understand that. what i cannot abide however is a wilderness group who capitulates to money while they advertise saving wild lands. that is pure hypocrisy and should be condemned by any true wilderness advocate.

    sometimes the forks we take in the trail can lead to an abyss. i will follow the blazes of those who truly want to save wilderness for our kids.

  18. George Vincent

    A minor point of clarification, JC. What you described as “hard release” is, in fact defined as “soft release.” Hard release language would go something like: “Any public land described in in this bill that is not designated as wilderness shall never be designated as wilderness at any point in the future.” Attempts to insert hard release language in legislation has been tried several times (Pombo was a great fan), but it has never passed.

    You may think that there’s little practical difference — and in many cases there is not. But under Section 202 of FLPMA, as the courts have made clear in the last couple of years, the BLM has the duty to maintain an accurate inventory of lands with wilderness characteristics — and said lands (and their wilderness characteristics) may be protected until such time as Congress may revisit designation. There are about 700 Wilderness areas, and I’d guess several dozen have been added to over time. The Omnibus Bill (S.22) referenced above would add to a few more — though it now appears the NRA has killed this legislation.

    Of course, that an area subject to soft release would not soon fall to one or more of the wilderness-killing uses is probably increasingly unlikely as we continue to grow and use (up) our land.

    But I am not as sanguine as some of you appear to be with the idea that less-than-Wilderness protections will suffice. One need only go to Utah to see how WSAs degrade over time. True, Wilderness can degrade, too — but at least there’s a law (rather than just a policy followed (or not) by the whim of the manager) to be measured against.

    In the roughly 130 laws designating Wilderness, only one (ANILCA) was passed by Congress without at least one supporter in each house from the affected state. It will not happen again, important as NREPA is. That is just a fact. Well, not a fact, true — but I (and a lot of folk more connected to the ways of DC) just don’t see it happening. So — who are we going to ELECT for our lone Represetative that will endorse such a large bill? I have huge problems with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge bill — both in it’s content and its birthing process — but that it is small is not one of them.

    But, not even something this insignificant will pass — there’s absolutely no pressure on Denny from his constituents to do anything more than just ignore it.

  19. the statement above by george ochenski intrigued me so much that i visited the Montana Wilderness Association website and took a look at their books (annual report). follow the money right?

    seems that out of a total income last year (fiscal) of $753,863 over 55% of their income is from grants which i assume are from foundations. that is interesting. what would be even more interesting would be to turn the microscope lens up a few notches further to see who funds those foundations. look for a post on that in the near future. stay tuned.

    STATEMENT OF ACTIVITIES for the year ending September 30, 2008
    2 0 0 8 A N N U A L R E P O R T
    Membership Income $102,780
    Gift Income $140,535
    Grant Income $412,024
    Sales Income $ 39,706
    Investment Income $ 25,202
    Other Income $ 33,616
    Total Revenue $753,863
    Program Expenses $633,378
    Rocky Mountain Front
    Wilderness Designation
    Quiet Trails
    Roadless Lands
    Northwest Montana
    Administration $ 85,513
    Fundraising $ 63,065
    Total Expenses $781,956
    Reserve Account Balance: $704,350
    Permanently Restricted Funds: $436,066
    (Including Forever Wild Endowment Fund)
    Montana Wilderness Association is a nonprofit,
    tax-exempt organization under 501(c)3 of the
    Internal Revenue Code.

    • elkamino


      you say

      he statement above by george ochenski intrigued me so much that i visited the Montana Wilderness Association website and took a look at their books (annual report). follow the money right?

      seems that out of a total income last year (fiscal) of $753,863 over 55% of their income is from grants which i assume are from foundations. that is interesting. what would be even more interesting would be to turn the microscope lens up a few notches further to see who funds those foundations. look for a post on that in the near future. stay tuned.

      ever follow up on this?

      • problembear

        access to information on the above was blocked. as it was explained to me, the only way to get that kind of detailed information is to have access to the entire income tax documents of the organization. they are not required to reveal to the public specific donors and amounts. they are required only to publish the document i copied above.

        it probably doesn’t make much difference who they are anyway because my sense of talking to those who know is that most of the foundations that contribute to MWA are either individual family trusts or outdoor gear related trusts. in either case, any charitable board would be squeamish about contributing to any organization that appears or is painted as extremist by the collaborators.

        therefore, absent the close inspection of the books i feel that george’s assessment above holds true regardless of who is contributing to the MWA. by collaborating with the wood products industry and politicians instead of fulfilling their core mission of protecting wilderness areas and roadless areas of montana the MWA can help themselves to many bags of silver.

        they have certainly earned it.

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