Wilderness Study Areas with Congressman Gianforte
By Tim Ravndal
A couple weeks ago Congressman Gianforte held a field hearing in Hamilton Montana where he discussed general forest management. At that meeting discussion focused on wildfires and the loss of resources. There were some concerned that the hearing was too inclusive and did not provide for a full spectrum of interests affected by public land management.
On Wednesday by special invitation only, a group of representatives from multiple organizations met with Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte in Lewistown Montana. The round table meeting was held to focus on “Wilderness Study Area” designations in Montana. The members of the round table discussion included Citizens for Balanced Use, Montana Wild Sheep Foundation, Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Wildlife Federation, Outdoor Alliance, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Teddy Roosevelt Conservatives, Montana Association of Counties, Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Montana Outfitters and Guides Association and Montana Stockgrowers Association.
Congressman Gianforte has introduced a couple of pieces of legislation that would deal with 690,000 acres of designated Wilderness Study Areas. Most of these areas have been under “study status” for 40 years. Congress was charged to decide on the status of these lands but due to analysis paralysis nothing has ever been done. Congressman Gianforte hopes that his legislation will be a compromise in the deadlock on how to manage these lands. Congressman Gianforte says his legislation takes a middle of the road position on management. The proposal neither takes full release or full lock up of the lands in question. He is holding a series of meetings to hear from the people and to see how he can improve the legislation.
Each of those at the table got a chance to speak of their interests. Some support the Congressman’s ideas while others believe it is just another political move and a waste of time. Several representatives at the table made it clear that they are not willing to allow for these lands to be returned to multiple use management. They fear that doing so would open these lands to full development.
Congressman made a point to make his position on public lands clear. He says “public lands must stay in public hands.” He also echoed that; “Many Montanans want to increase and maintain public access to all public lands.”
There was a near unanimous consent that the process must follow a “Collaboration” process. Representative Kerry White also Executive Director of “Citizens for Balanced Use” stated; “It is all good to sit down and talk but… At some point we need to put the map on the table and decide what we are going to do with these lands…There are multiple opportunities for alternate designations, and in the end, we need to put it on the map.”
It appeared almost forbidden to talk in any depth about the litigating organizations that consistently file legal action against public land management decisions. Tim Ravndal stated that Congressman Gianforte’s legislation needs to address “Tort Reform” to be effective. He also brought forward the essential tool of land management is “Coordination.” Coordination is the only tool that can ensure that there is a true seat at the table for local government in resource management planning.
The final message from Congressman Gianforte was that if you are concerned that your voice is not represented in these meetings, he invites you to provide him with your position. Those that wish to have an official comment on the process can do so by sending an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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