The following editorial “Big Trouble in Big Sky Country” was published in the Fairfield Sun Times located in Montana. It addresses the lands issues that Montana is facing today, but these issues apply to all the western states. The west is truly under attack and this article clearly shows the threat we are facing as a result of the environmental movement. This is worth reading and sharing because this affects us all. I appreciate the Editor of the Fairfield Sun Times giving me permission to republish this article in its entirety.
Big Trouble in Big Sky County
Montana’s natural beauty and economic future are under assault from bad government policy and environmentalists who will use any means to block multiple-use management of the land. There is also a need for Montanans to remain vigilant and to ratchet up their involvement in the issues, according to Dave Skinner, an award-winning environmental writer. His report, “The Front Line: Saving Montana from Montanans,” appears in the current publication of RANGE magazine.
RANGE, which is devoted to problems faced by America’s producers who fill the country’s supermarket shelves, is the recipient of a Freedom of the Press Award.
When the Wilderness Act was signed in l964, Skinner writes, it had wide acceptance as a means of preserving outstanding natural areas for the future with the remaining land dedicated to long-term, multiple-use management. Sadly, it didn’t happen that way, he says. When public support for the Wilderness Act tanked, enter the manipulation by environmentalists. Greens both inside and outside government have turned to an onslaught of other means to control and/or remove land uses they dislike—through appeals, litigation, administrative fiat, bureaucratic delay, endangered species, conservation easements, even national monument designation under the Antiquities Act.
The strategy is to block land uses in hopes the land users go away. Skinner says the strategy has worked, and cites as an example the Rocky Mountain Front, a visually stunning landscape where for 150 years closely-knit communities of ranchers and farmers have quietly gone about making their living.
“It’s a place like no other, inhabited by folks like none other—but for how much longer?” Skinner asks.
No To Mineral Exploration
Today, on the Rocky Mountain Ranger District of the Lewis and Clark National Forest (LCNF), some
365,000 acres are not yet Congressional wilderness. One major reason: The district is famed worldwide, not just as scenery but also as one of the finest representation of the Rocky Mountain Overthrust Belt, a geology rich in petroleum. Because Congress can’t, or won’t, designate an oilfield as wilderness, environmentalists and their bureaucratic allies conducted an all-out guerrilla war against oil, Skinner writes.
While oil and gas production on the federal Front is dead for now, the issue lives on, particularly in the pages of the Fairfield Sun-Times. Skinner says editor and publisher Darryl Flowers is known statewide for covering petroleum issues, with a weekly Energy Report and features.
Recreation Under The Gun
With oil apparently killed off, the LCNF moved on to “travel management.” Public motorized trail use and winter snowmobiling in the popular Badger Two Medicine was totally banned, and only 16 miles of single-track motorcycle trail remains open on the other 290,000 acres of the Front. Overall, only a minimal network of atrociously maintained main roads remains for general public travel and use.
Enter The Heritage Act
Almost all “public” support for the Heritage Act, which would designate certain federal land as wilderness and improve the management of noxious weeds in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, comes from the so-called Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, which seems to have no stand-alone existence. The Coalition’s phone number is actually that of the Montana Wilderness Association Choteau branch office. Many Coalition promotional emails originate from Jennifer Ferenstein, an employee of the national Wilderness Society, and former board chairman of the Sierra Club. Even more revealing, Flowers, Fairfield Sun-times publisher, reported, “The Coalition website is currently registered anonymously. But in 2011, my research found the website was registered to Gloria Flora.”
Among Flora’s “achievements” as supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada, she was known for creating an uproar in Jarbidge over a road to an outhouse.
The noxious weed portion of the bill is viewed as lip service, with no visible management plan nor guaranteed weed money. As for claims the bill will lock in existing motorized uses, Teton County Commissioner Joe Dellwo points out, “Access for multiple use is already the most restrictive it has ever been”—not just for play, but necessary work.
The Heritage Act would designate 67,000 acres as wilderness additions, and 208,000 acres of Conservation Management Area. The laundry list of items marked for preservation does not include grazing.
Not Necessarily So
The Coalition claims the Heritage Act was created using public input, but Commissioner Dellwo differs. Requests for a three-mile zone between designated wilderness and private property that would act as a buffer in the event of a forest fire have been ignored.
Supporters have been trying to present the bill as a “home-grown compromise” but Dellwo says “the compromise is between factions of the wilderness organizations.” Polls indicate the level of public opposition is more than 70 percent. Dellwo estimates Teton County as a whole is “95 percent against the Heritage Act.” Support comes from a small, but vocal group,” he says.
Bad Days Coming
However, Congressional legislation may be rendered moot if President Barack Obama uses his power of the pen and the Antiquities Act and gives the Front national monument designation. The Salt Lake Tribune studied the issue, settling on 12 places “most likely” for designation. The Rocky Mountain Front was listed.