FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Montana Standard op-ed: Report on WSAs advocates local, collaborative approaches
Less than two years ago, Montana’s wilderness study areas (WSAs) were under attack. Now, we’re closer to protecting them as a reflection of community values.
Those decisions should not fall to bureaucrats who have never visited these places.
And that, of course, brings us to Senator Steve Daines and Representative Greg Gianforte.
Back in 2018, Daines and Gianforte each introduced legislation that sought to strip protection from nearly 800,000 acres of WSAs, including the places the EQC investigated for its report. They introduced their legislation without holding a single public meeting, hearing, or town hall; without accounting for the unique needs and perspectives of communities that depend on their local WSAs; and without tapping into the constituent feedback loop that’s required of good public servants.
When Montanans confronted Daines and Gianforte about being cut out of the process, the congressmen proceeded to hold sham “public meetings” with handpicked supporters to provide cover for their unpopular bills. Montanans weren’t fooled, and spoke out long and loud until Daines and Gianforte were forced to withdraw their top-down, one-size-fits-all legislation under an avalanche of letters, emails, phone calls, and demonstrations.
Our congressional delegation needs to support local, collaborative efforts focused on the particular attributes of each of these areas, not to impose generic, place-blind legislation that decides the fate of all of these places in one fell swoop — with no opportunity for real public input.
Have Daines and Gianforte taken this message to heart? We certainly hope so, but they have yet to show convincing evidence of truly listening to the Montanans who love and depend on our WSAs.
During the EQQ’s penultimate meeting on July 30, Montana’s congressmen were asked to provide testimony to the committee before it issued its final report.
Daines’ letter offered the ambiguous opinion that “a solution to this decades-old issue should include local support.” Gianforte described his 2018 legislation as “a starting point,” indicating that he hasn’t given up on his top-down approach.
We count ourselves among the many Montanans whose lives are immeasurably enriched by WSAs. We hunt here, we ride our horses here, and we’ve raised our children here. We depend on the clean water that flows from the mountains and the peace that we find in the deep forests and on the open prairies. We applaud the EQC for taking a collaborative approach to WSA management seriously, and we can only hope that Daines and Gianforte will follow the committee’s lead.
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