A round on me

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 4:14 PM

Good news: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently unanimously passed the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. I don’t always agree with Sen. Baucus, but I’m on board for this one.

As the world gets more noisy and crowded, it is important to protect perfect places like the Rocky Mountain Front forever. There is no place like it left in the world. We are the caretakers of that place, and it’s our job to keep it whole.

We also know that the more rare a thing is, the more valuable it becomes.  With permanent protection, the Front can remain a geographic diamond for all Americans to cherish and experience with their eyes and ears and legs and lungs. And it won’t hurt that those people will stay a night or two at the Stage Stop in Choteau, or get a burger at the Buckhorn in Augusta.

We need to protect the Rocky Mountain Front for our hearts. Fortunately, our brains can come along without hesitation.

I am sending this letter to Rep. Daines, whose help we will need after the Act passes the full Senate. Daines not only should support this legislation, he should introduce it in the House.

Please call him to ask him to do that for all of us. And when the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act becomes law, let’s all go up to the Buckhorn and have a party. I will buy a round, and I hope it breaks the bank.

John Dendy
Helena

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RE: Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act

Below are some concerns regarding Senator Baucus' Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Supporters of the bill aren't being totally honest or up-front with the public about what the actual bill language would mean for the Rocky Mountain Front.

Here are some facts and specifics based on the actual bill language:

• The 67, 000 acres of Wilderness designations along the Rocky Mountain Front proposed by Senator Baucus is a paltry sum, given the world-class, and largely unprotected wildlands and wildlife habitat, currently found along the Rocky Mountain Front. Even the Forest Service has recommended more Wilderness protections in their forest plans for the area than what Senator Baucus is proposing. Unfortunately, a few years ago supporters of Baucus’ bill dropped almost 30,000 acres of proposed Wilderness from this bill at the request of snowmobilers and those who oppose Wilderness. I strongly urge Senator Baucus to include Wilderness protections for all the inventoried roadless wildlands along the Rocky Mountain Front.

• The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act PRESERVES EXISTING motorized recreation, private grazing and logging on 208,160 acres of federal public land along the RMF. Sure, supporters of the bill have re-named this 208,160 acre area where motors, grazing and logging will continue as a nice sounding “Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Management Area.” However, a serious question that should be posed to Senator Baucus is: How does preserving existing motorized use, private grazing and logging on 208,160 acres along the Rocky Mountain Front actually result in protecting the area or eliminating the threats posed by motorized use, grazing and logging in these areas?

• Re: Grazing – This bill mandates and LOCKS-IN public lands grazing by private ranchers across the Front by stating that “The secretary SHALL permit grazing” where it currently exists. Under existing law, grazing may be allowed to continue, but it is not mandated that it must be allowed to continue. The current language of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act ties the hands of the Forest Service and it is worse than a bail-out, as it MANDATES the federal government to keep a private, commercial enterprise operating on public land, regardless of the ecological consequences, both now and into perpetuity. This public lands grazing mandate MUST be removed from the RMFHA.

• The bill language for maintaining existing facilities for livestock grazing is more liberal than previous Wilderness bills. The language incorporating State or local agencies for controlling fire, insects and disease promotes the trend toward devolution of federal public lands and is objectionable on that basis. This language should be removed from the RMFHA.

• Much of the noxious weed stuff in the bill is all about taxpayer funding for dropping tons of poisons on the ground while also MANDATING that all existing livestock grazing continue forever. If this were an effective strategy there wouldn’t be weeds in Montana. Given the complexities and unknowns of controlling weeds, especially with a rapidly changing climate and an escalating number of encroaching weed species, the called-for management strategy needs to focus on an assessment of existing weed infestations, the causes, potential controls, costs, likelihood of success, and clearly stated, measurable objectives to determine whether the controls are effective, and what will be done if they aren’t or if the funding doesn’t come through. At a minimum, this section of the bill should call for the plan to be written by an independent team of scientists.

Many of these substantive concerns regarding the actual language and specifics of the Rocky Mountain Heritage Act have been expressed by a number of organizations and many experienced, dedicated wilderness and forest activists. Many Montana wilderness supporters remain disappointed that the Act would only designate a small fraction of Wilderness-deserving lands on the Rocky Mountain Front as Wilderness, while leaving too much of the Front open to logging, grazing, motorized recreation and other forms of development.

We’ve tried to get the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front to listen to our concerns, make adjustments to the bill and add more protections to the unparalleled wildlife habitat and wildlands on the Rocky Mountain Front, but, unfortunately, they seem more concerned with politics and appeasing the opinions of the anti-wilderness crowd.

I would encourage those who value the Rocky Mountain Front for it's wildness and wildlife habitat, as I do, to read the actual bill. Then contact Senator Baucus and those pushing this bill and ask them to address many of the substantive, specific concerns with the actual language of the bill. Thank you.

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Posted by Matthew Koehler on 12/12/2013 at 9:35 AM
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