When U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talks about his record, he often points to his forest jobs and wilderness bill as an example of what he’s trying to do: Fix things that are broken, by listening to Montanans.
“Did everybody get what they wanted?” he says. “No. But everybody who wanted their input in it was at the table.”
The 2009 bill, which has yet to pass, would create 660,000 acres of new wilderness in western Montana while dictating that 100,000 of acres of national forest be managed for logging, to help create timber jobs while preserving wild areas.
Yet Tester’s main re-election opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., has opposed the measure, saying its only guarantee is more wilderness, while giving no such assurance for logging in the forests.
“It doesn’t mandate (any logging),” Rehberg says. “He can say that, but it’s just not true. I’m trying to tell people who were part of the collaboration that they’re being sold a bill of goods here.”
The dispute goes to the heart of how each man sees his role and accomplishments in Congress – and why each believes they’re the better choice for voters.
Tester, running for a second term in the U.S. Senate, points to many bills or language he helped write that have forced positive action by the government to address problems.
The proposals include improving health programs for military veterans, offering tax credits for hiring veterans, returning management of wolves to Montana, improving access to small-business capital, directing public-health grants to rural towns, or creating crop insurance for biofuel crops.
“We’ve been very proactive both in the state and back (in Washington, D.C.), to try to fix problems as they arise, and move things forward in a way that makes sense for families and small businesses and rural America,” he says.
Rehberg, on the other hand, often points to instances where he has stopped or tried to stop various government actions he sees as federal overreach, from the tracking of multiple handgun purchases to rules on kids’ all-terrain vehicles to defunding President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
For example, he says he worked for three years to help pass a bill preventing federal officials from classifying as toys motorcycles, snowmobiles and ATVs for kids. The classification, in effect, prevented their sale to kids, Rehberg says.
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Why are the same people who get so exercised about out of state influence on Montana’s elections so uninterested in out of state influence on our livelihoods? Too many people who bemoan outside political spending seem to be just fine with out of state special interests and bureaucrats telling us how we can make a living, manage our lands and raise our families. Who’s watching over our right to pursue happiness and foster a legacy of opportunity for our kids and grandkids while special interests try to fence the state off as a playground for the rich and a petri dish for social and environmental special interests?
A rancher friend once told me he was going to live a pauper and die a millionaire. Much like him, Montana is land rich and cash poor because we’re not allowed to responsibly use our lands and resources for our own benefit. Even as we sit on unimaginable wealth above and below our beautiful landscapes, we have the second lowest wages per job on the nation.[i] We’ve been cut off from our wealth by people who either don’t understand or don’t care about the human toll of pressing their values on Montana families.
We all want and should welcome a sustainable and diverse economy; but industries that aren’t based on some underlying value can pack up and leave overnight. A sustainable economic base must leverage the things that are unique and lasting. In Montana those things are natural resources. You can’t harvest Montana timber in Indonesia, raise Montana wheat in Australia or pump Montana oil in Saudi Arabia. They’re what we have and businesses have to come here to get them. But we’re being increasingly cut off from what makes Montana the Treasure State.
Imagine if the federal government stepped in and outlawed gambling in Las Vegas, tanning in Florida, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Those are the local engines of economic growth. Businesses and families depend on those things to prosper and pursue happiness. But here in Montana we’re being cut off from our economic engine. It’s both unfair and unsustainable to have barriers erected by far away special interests and bureaucrats that seem to think that the families and lifestyles of those who live here are expendable.
They can do this because the federal government oversees so much of our land. Nearly 30 percent of Montana is controlled by the federal government.[ii] Getting access to those federal lands, whether through grazing, drilling, digging or harvesting is getting more and more difficult and expensive because of federal meddling in what used to be state responsibilities.
One recent example was a quietly passed Senate appropriations bill that imposes new inspection fees on oil and gas drillers, designates yet more wilderness, i.e. fenced off, lands in Montana and raises grazing fees on public lands. Combine that with new EPA and BLM regulations on fracking – a process that has resulted in exactly zero instance s of contamination in over 60 years[iii] – and you have effectively confiscated Montana’s greatest assets.
That same bill would provide another nearly $400 million dollars to take private land out of production, reducing the tax base that pays for our schools, driving our families off the land, and emptying Main Streets all across Montana.
Do we want to be one of the poorest states in the country forever? Do we want to stand by and watch as our kids leave in search of better lives? Our future as a state is older and poorer if we don’t act now and push back against the special interests that don’t care about the families they’re breaking up and the communities they’re killing off. We can responsibly develop our natural resources. We have the knowledge, the skills, and the technology to maintain a sustainable economic base to fund our schools and take care of those who fall on hard times. Do we have the will?
Carl Graham is CEO of Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research center in Bozeman.
[i] U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. Data released Sept. 2012. (Data pulled from University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Annual Average Wage/Salary per Job by State, http://bber.unm.edu/econ/us-wage.htm, (Accessed 10/15/12)
[ii] U.S. Congressional Research Service, Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data (R42346; February 8, 2012), by Ross W Gorte, et. al.
[iii] Tom Amontree, Hydraulic Fracturing Has Been Done Safely For Years, http://thehill.com/opinion/letters/187527-hydraulic-fracturing-has-been-done-safely-for-years, 10/13/11, (Accessed 10/15/12)
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When the big-game rifle season opens Saturday, hunters on some northern Montana lands may find themselves caught in a crossfire.
More than 70 landowners have published their names in ads in the Glasgow Courier and Malta’s Phillips County News over the past few months announcing that their lands would be closed to hunters until the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks drops its plans for releasing bison onto public lands. One ad also cited fire danger as a reason for closing land to hunting.
The reason behind the move is simple, according to one landowner.
“If the hunters don’t have anyplace to hunt, they won’t buy high-dollar licenses, and maybe some hotshot for fish and game will take a look at that and say, ‘Gol darn, our revenue went down. Maybe we should pay attention,’” said Rich Sudduth, a retired Hinsdale-area rancher whose name was listed in two of the ads.
Sudduth said he is negotiating to sell his property so he won’t be in charge of locking out hunters when the sale is completed.
Kit Fischer of the National Wildlife Federation, which has publicly pushed for the reintroduction of bison to the nearby Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, said he respected the landowners’ right to protest.
“There’s a reason people are looking to northeastern Montana and the CMR for bison, it’s because the landowners have done such a good job of taking care of the land,” he said.
The protest has its problems. Two names on the largest ad, Leo and Anna Lou Bergtoll, cannot close all of their land to hunters despite their dismay over the bison initiative. The Bergtolls were ordered by a federal judge in 2009 to enroll their property for five years in the state’s Block Management Program at no cost to the state as part of a settlement of a suit against them for illegal use of hunting tags. As a result, they still have more than 18,460 acres of their land enrolled in the program, which in other cases pays landowners to open their private property to public hunting.
In all, six of about 15 landowners in FWP’s Region 6 who canceled their enrollment in Block Management cited FWP policies and bison as the reason for not renewing their contracts, according to Alan Charles, who oversees the Block Management Program. Statewide, about 50 of 1,300 landowners dropped their enrollment in Block Management.
“I understand, the bison issue is going to be a hot one,” Charles said. “Landowners, I think, feel frustrated as to how they can influence policy.”
Despite the protests, the program still has about 8 million private acres opened to hunters by 1,250 landowners. In conjunction with state and federal lands open to the public, Montana’s roughly 147,000 deer hunters and 104,000 elk hunters still have a lot of options for where to go. But in the Hinsdale area at least, hunters may be turned back.
“It definitely tightens down the opportunities for hunters,” said Pat Gunderson, FWP regional manager in Glasgow. “Even some people who dropped out are still allowing hunting, though, just not through our program.”
The bison policy protest comes as FWP is in the process of developing a state bison management plan. Preliminary meetings were held across the state this summer. A final plan is probably years away.
What seems to have angered landowners more than the planning process, which could eventually allow bison to be relocated to public lands, was the transfer in March to the Fort Peck Reservation of 64 disease-free Yellowstone National Park bison that had been held in quarantine.
“I just don’t think the way they went about getting these buffalo in here was right,” Sudduth said. “I know what’s going to happen with the bison thing. They breed. Pretty soon you’ve got way more there than they’ve got pasture for and when they get hungry, a fence doesn’t mean a damn to them.”
The bison transfer heightened the fears of people already suspicious of government intentions. Eastern Montana landowners have long been opposed to state and federal government actions, partly because the agencies hold control over huge swaths of public lands that border them, or are enclosed by their private lands, and which they lease for grazing.
Adding to landowners’ concern is the National Wildlife Federation’s push to restore wild bison to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the American Prairie Reserve’s purchase of ranch lands north of the Missouri River to restore bison to the northeastern Montana prairie landscape.
“I just hope that as the process continues, both sides are willing to come together more and discuss solutions as opposed to not talking at all,” said Fischer of the National Wildlife Federation.
Hunters got caught up in the dispute when the Horse Ranch in Valley County, owned by Ron and Rose Stoneberg and Jason Holt and Sierra Stoneberg Holt, took out a newspaper ad in August saying their property would no longer be enrolled in FWP’s Block Management Program because the families are against “FWP policies that adversely affect hunters and landowners.” The advertisement added that hunters would still be welcome. Ron Stoneberg is a retired FWP biologist.
“Fish, Wildlife and Parks are the ones you have to target to get their attention to say we deserve some basic human rights here,” said Sierra Stoneberg Holt. “This is not an ideal situation, because most of the hunters we deal with support us. The hunters should not suffer for what the fish and game is doing wrong, especially if they don’t support fish and game, which has been our experience.”
Holt said fellow landowners are strongly against the state returning bison to public lands in the area, even if they are already present on the American Prairie Reserve’s land and nearby reservations. However, if the state wants to put bison near Missoula — the state’s liberal political stronghold — Holt said she would support the move.
“There are whole counties of people who feel they are being completely ignored,” she said. “They are very frustrated, angry and confused. I’m sure there are better approaches. The hunters are the innocent victims in the middle here.”
Not the first time
Withdrawing private lands from hunter access as a form of protest over state actions has been done before. In 1993, new regulations on state lands prompted scattered protests where landowners closed their property to all public hunting. The designation of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, wolf policy and farm programs have also been cited as reasons for withdrawing private lands from public access, FWP’s Charles said.
“We have attrition in Block Management every year for various reasons, but this year people are making a statement about the bison by not renewing their contracts,” Gunderson said. “Our philosophy is to work closely with landowners, and we’ll continue to focus on that.”
Charles said the move could backfire on the protesting landowners.
“I don’t know if it gains the hunter support or if they feel blackmailed,” Charles said. “I don’t know.”
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Farmers and ranchers in Valley and Phillips counties, the grassy prairie that some envision as an American Serengeti for free-roaming bison, have turned their opposition to this plan back on Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in a new way. To demonstrate that they do not accept FWP’s translocation of Yellowstone bison to northeast Montana, about 70 landowners have cut years-long ties with FWP’s game management programs and the hunter friends they have hosted on their land.
The decisions have been announced in newspaper advertisements in The Courier and The Phillips County News. The first to make the public move were the Stonebergs on Horse Ranch, some 40 miles south of Hinsdale on Timber Creek, the home of Ron and Rose Stoneberg, and their daughter Sierra Holt, her husband, Jason Holt, and their daughter, Zora.
Their Aug. 15 ad stated that Horse Ranch was no longer in FWP’s Block Management program, which pays landowners to open almost 8 million acres of private property to public hunting.
“We are against state FWP policies that adversely affect hunters and landowners,” they said, without referring specifically to bison relocation, although all of the adult members of the family have written opinion pieces on the subject.
On Sept. 19, the names of 48 landowners, mostly from western Valley County and Phillips County, appeared under a statement that “since our ranch/farm operations would not survive with wild, free-ranging bison/buffalo,” they were closing their land to hunting until FWP drops its plan to release them in Montana.
The message concluded with the hope that their hunter friends would understand and assist this effort to “protect our livelihoods and communities.”
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Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill promoted his hunting and fishing plan and criticized the state’s wildlife agency Wednesday with the head of the National Rifle Association at his side.
Hill appeared with NRA President David Keene in Great Falls before about a dozen people to field questions on fishing, hunting and public access to land.
The former congressman said he wants the state to take over management of threatened grizzly bears from the federal government and said that there is no room for free-roaming bison in the state.
But he saved his big guns for criticism of the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. Hill said FWP has engaged in large land acquisitions without setting aside money to manage those lands and damaged relationships with private landowners through its policies, including a more lenient policy toward wild bison that leave Yellowstone National Park.
Hill said he would initiate an audit of the agency’s spending and scrutinize its priorities. Taking away oversight of state parks is an option that he has not fully explored and has not taken a position on, he said.
“We think the agency needs to be focused on managing wildlife,” Hill said.
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The American Prairie Reserve, a Bozeman conservation organization, announced Tuesday that it has bought the 150,000-acre South Ranch in south Valley County from Page Whitham Land and Cattle, a move that has been rumored locally for months.
Page Whitham owner Steve Page confirmed the purchase Tuesday, and has written an explanation of his family’s action that appears on page A2.
Page takes a long view of the historical trend of the government’s land use decisions and determined that the time was right to sell that ranch.
“We have concluded that traditional ranching operations on public land in south Valley and south Phillips counties are in jeopardy of becoming history in the not so distant future,” Page said.
Page said the family plans to remain in Glasgow, operating the ranch under a 12-year lease-back agreement that can be renegotiated and extended at the end of the first lease. The purchase price of the ranch was not disclosed.
“We feel that our South Ranch no longer provides viable opportunity for future ranching generations and it is not without emotion that we have chosen to sell to a conservation organization willing to pay fair market value for this property, yet allow us to operate it as a cattle ranch for an extended period of time,” Page said.
APR has established a holding of more than 123,300 acres of deeded and leased public land in south Phillips County and has stocked it with more than 200 genetically pure bison that have never been crossbred with cattle. Their stated goal is a prairie based wildlife reserve with up to 10,000 free-roaming bison and other native animals on more than three million acres, anchored on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
South Valley and Phillips counties, with the adjoining CMR, comprise the largest contiguous block of public lands in Montana. The APR says it has some of the largest blocks of untilled prairie in North America, and says it represents the best potential for large-scale grassland conservation.
Many local ranchers have tried to maintain a united front against the creation of a Buffalo Commons on the BLM and state grazing lands that they need to continue their operations. They unsuccessfully contested losing their grazing rights on the CMR, and protested the raising of state land grazing fees by 50 percent last year.
Although Interior Secretary Ken Salazar two years ago repudiated a plan circulated in his department to make large parts of Phillips and Valley counties into a national monument, the fear still exists among local farmers and ranchers that this could happen, or that the APR could be turned into a national park.
Page was a member of the BLM Advisory Council when a national monument was proposed on the Missouri River. The majority of the council recommended no monument designation. Nevertheless, in 2001 outgoing President Bill Clinton used his power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
The bison owned by the American Prairie Reserve are private livestock, like many herds in Montana and other states. One reason that farmers and ranchers opposed the introduction of Yellowstone bison on the Fort Peck Reservation and Fort Belknap is that they are considered wild game, under the jurisdiction of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. If these bison break their fence and escape onto private fields and hay yards, as tribal bison on Fort Peck and Belknap have done, they cannot be handled like straying cattle.
“I’m not a pro-bison guy. I’m not an anti-bison guy,” Page said. “It all goes back to my fear of the future on a ranch with a high percentage of public land that has come under the microscope of public scrutiny.”
He said the market value of a public land-based ranch could be significantly impacted by higher grazing fees, and its future economic value depends on government policy. If sage grouse becomes listed as an endangered species, for instance, livestock grazing on all the public land in south Valley and Phillips counties could be reduced or eliminated.
Page is aware of possible critical reaction to his decision to sell.
“I’m sensitive to these issues. Anything you do that is different is going to meet with some local resistance,” Page said. “We don’t think this will injure anyone else economically. We’re very comfortable with what we’ve done.”
He said the county will not lose anything in taxes; the revenue will be the same. The land is already under a perpetual state conservation easement, so public hunting and recreation will continue.
“It boils down to our prerogatives as property owners. We have experienced a loss of property rights and values. This was an opportunity for us to protect our future estate,” Page said.
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Saturday, August 25
12:00pm to 1:00pm Sue Hi-Tech Motor Sports.com 6540 South Frontage Rd Billings Mt 59101 Please join Rick Hill for a listening session in Billings focused on sportsmen issues and other related topics. Rick recently released a series of policy proposals aimed at protecting Montana’s outdoor sporting heritage and he would like discuss his proposals with you and listen to your thoughts and ideas. RICK HILL: Protecting Montana’s Outdoor Sporting Heritage can be viewed here: http://www.rickhill2012.com/issues/sportsmens-issues
RSVP’s are not required, but please feel free to reply to this email if you plan to attend.
For more information Call Phil @ 406-281-8145 or email@example.com
The most dramatic feature of eastern Montana’s prairie is a sea of grass fading into a blue sky that stretches from horizon to horizon.
But, for more than a century, what’s given the land definition have been fences — thousands of miles of barbed wire slicing across the prairie and pulled taut to keep in cattle.
Now on tens of thousands of acres of former ranchland those fences are being pulled down by a private conservation group funded by deep-pocketed philanthropists.
In the heart of Montana’s cattle country, the American Prairie Reserve is assembling a wildlife preserve that could be larger than Connecticut and rival the West’s great national parks.
On Tuesday, the Bozeman-based group announced its biggest step yet toward that goal with the purchase of the 150,000-acre South Ranch from families with a century-long tie to the land.
The deal more than doubles the amount of public and private property under the reserve’s control just north of the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, about 60 miles from the Canadian border.
Scientists familiar with the initiative describe it as an unprecedented attempt to restore an often-overlooked ecosystem that supports hundreds of species of birds, mammals, plants and insects.
The ‘‘end-game’’ is the free flow of wildlife — pronghorn antelope, predators and up to 10,000 bison — across three million acres or more of public and private land, organizers said.
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The National Park Service (NPS) has prepared a Draft Winter Use Plan and Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft Plan/SEIS) for Yellowstone National Park. The purpose of the Winter Use Plan is to establish a management framework for Yellowstone’s unique and valuable winter recreational resources.
This plan will determine whether motorized winter use of the park (including snowmobiles, and snowcoaches) is appropriate, and if so, the types, extent, and location of this use. A Winter Use Plan is needed at this time because:
The NPS is deciding whether snowmobile and/or snowcoach use should continue, and if so, under what limits and restrictions. The draft SEIS evaluated the environmental effects of winter use on air quality and visibility, wildlife, natural soundscapes, employee and visitor health and safety, visitor experience, and socioeconomics.
The public comment period for the Draft Plan/SEIS ends August 20, 2012, and it is extremely important that the National Park Service hear from you.
SNOWMOBILERS, YOU NEED TO COMMENT BY AUGUST 20.
NOTE: Comments may be submitted through the NPS website, by mail or hand delivered to park headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs, WY. Comments will not be accepted by fax, email, or in any other way than those specified above. Bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.
The National Park Service intends to have a final SEIS, a Record of Decision, and a final rule guiding winter use in place before the start of the 2012-2013 winter season.
For up-to-date information on the Yellowstone Winter Use Issue, go to our website www.saveyellowstonepark.com
For questions and other information, contact Al Nash or Dan Hottle at (307) 344-2015. More info is also available on the web at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/YELL
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:
The Yellowstone Task Force, which is made up of state and national snowmobile leaders, the snowmobile industry, commercial tour operators, and representatives from the affected gateway communities, and elected officials at the county, state and national level has reviewed the draft plan and SEIS, and have suggested comments. Snowmobile enthusiast NEED to comment on the draft SEIS, and if you have ever been to Yellowstone, we need you to comment regarding your experience.
THREE-STEP ACTION ITEM
STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO SEND YOUR COMMENTS:
NOTE: Please be polite and, if possible, make your comment letter as personal as you can.
STEP 1: Click Here. This link will take you to the NPS comment webpage. Read and follow the instructions for completing the Comment Form.
STEP 2: Use the comments suggestions below as a guideline for your comments. Cut and paste is okay, but try to make your comment letter as personal as possible.
STEP 3: Take just a minute to add a bit about where you live, any winter visits you have made to Yellowstone, how often you go, how long you have been riding in the area and/or how important the area is to you.
Once you have completed your comments, click the “Submit” button.
You may also comment by mail to: Yellowstone National Park, Winter Use DRAFT SEIS, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone NP, WY 82190.
NOTE: Comments will not be accepted by fax, email, or in any other way than those specified above. Bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.
I support continued Winter access to Yellowstone National Park by snowmobiles. However, I do not support Alternatives 1, 2, or 3 as the way to provide for that continued snowmobile access. I do support the vision of Alternate 4: “Manage Over Snow Vehicles use by Transportation Events,” and the following are my comments:
*Snowmobiles have been used to access Yellowstone National Park for over 45 years and should continue to provide a special form of winter transportation. Over the past five years, the vast majority of visitors to the Park have requested a snowmobile as their form of transportation. Note: for most visitors this is their first experience on a snowmobile.
*The testing of snowmobiles to be ridden in Yellowstone should be accomplished at their average operational speed. Snowmobiles should be tested in the manner that they are ridden in the Park.
*Non-commercially guided access to the Park needs to be expanded in the final SEIS. There is a need for more than one non-commercially guided entry into the Park from each gate a day; this needs to be reassessed.
*It is important to have the two-year transition period after the SEIS is completed in late fall of 2012. Having a decision made on winter access to Yellowstone Park within a very short period, before the 2012-2013 season begins, would be a hardship on the snowmobile operators and the general public.
*In the final SEIS, winter access for both snowmobiles and snowcoaches to the Park should be continued over Sylvan Pass from the East Gate. This access is important to visitors. There continues to be interest in both snowmobile and snowcoach from the East Gate.
*Please leave all speed limits in the Park at the current historic levels. Changing the current speed in the Park could affect visitors ability to see all of the Park’s unique sights.
*The requirement for all visitors to carry avalanche rescue gear in the Park should be eliminated. Visitors to the Park do not need shovels, probes, and transceivers. Note: Snowmobile Guides do carry emergency and first aid equipment.
FFOR would like to thank BlueRibbon Coalition for their non-stop efforts and the information provided.
The last major Montana wild lands bill to clear Congress was in 1988, which Ronald Reagan killed with a pocket-veto at the request of then-Senate Republican candidate Conrad Burns.
Burns lost his Senate seat to Democrat Jon Tester in 2006. Tester has proposed a nearly 1 million-acre expansion of Montana wilderness and recreation areas in his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, only to see it blocked by Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican. On his side of the Capitol, Rehberg has supported the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, which would turn over 43 million areas of federal public land to state and local management.
Meanwhile, Sen. Max Baucus, the state’s senior Democratic congressional delegate, has offered some small wilderness additions in his Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. It would add 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness west of Choteau. The bill has yet to reach a Senate vote.
“It is a dismaying fact of life that there’s far less support for conservation initiatives of all kinds from members of the Republican Party than there was in the past,” said Wilderness Society senior policy advisor Dave Alberswerth. “It had always been bipartisan. The greatest advocate was Theodore Roosevelt. The environmental record of Richard Nixon was pretty impressive. But starting in the 1980s, there’s been a steady erosion of support of wilderness and other types of land conservation initiatives.”
Keith Kubista of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife said he thought the public has grown weary of the restrictions federal wilderness imposes.
“When you created wilderness, you got limited abilities to use it and manage the habitat,” Kubista said. “Locking people out and limiting access to some of this isn’t a very big benefit. And the wildlife is not benefiting from this kind of management of public lands.”
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