Two weeks ago, I posted a Wild Bill column about how the feud between wilderness groups stifling efforts to protect roadless lands. Both groups, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR) and the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) were unhappy with what I said and the comment section filled up with many insightful reasons why green groups have such dissimilar approaches to protecting roadless lands.
For the benefit of readers who might be still scratching their heads over why pro-Wilderness groups have such contradictory views on accomplishing a common goal, preserving Wilderness, I asked the executive directors of both groups to write a guest column to put it in their own words. Fortunately both Tim Baker of MWA and Michael Garrity of AWR agreed, so read on. -Bill Schneider
NREPA is Politically Viable
By Michael Garrity
The U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on October 18, 2007 on the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) H.R. 1975, sponsored by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) and 125 other Representatives. NREPA currently is the only wilderness bill that would affect Montana that has been introduced in Congress. NREPA will designate all of the inventoried roadless areas in the Northern Rockies as wilderness; protect some of America’s most beautiful and ecologically important lands while saving taxpayers money and creating jobs.
To preserve the biological integrity of the Northern Rockies ecosystem, NREPA will designate as wilderness nearly 7 million acres of wilderness in Montana, 9.5 million acres of wilderness in Idaho, 5 million acres of wilderness in Wyoming, 750,000 acres in eastern Oregon, and 500,000 acres in eastern Washington on federal public land. Included in this total is over 3 million acres in Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton National Parks.
The Northern Rockies is the only place in the lower 48 states where native species and wildlife are protected on lands that are virtually unchanged since Lewis and Clark saw them. This is public land belonging to all Americans.
Science tells us that wildlife populations cannot survive for long periods of time on isolated islands of habitat. Without plentiful habitat, populations eventually become genetically weaken and suffer from inbreeding effects. NREPA addresses this problem through its establishment of biological linkage corridors of habitat that connect the core wildlands of the region into one functioning ecological whole, preserving the genetic diversity needed for longevity. The lands and waters upon which 59 species of threatened and endangered species depend are within the area covered by NREPA.
At the Congressional hearing, University of Utah Museum of Natural History Research Curator William Newmark testified that we are in the midst of the world’s sixth major extinction event and the only place in the world we have a chance of stopping this extinction is in western North America and ecosystem protection bills like NREPA is the most effective way of reducing species loss.
Some people in the environmental community concede NREPA is a good bill but it is not politically viable. These claims are made even though NREPA is supported by the Speaker of the House as well as the Chairman of the Natural Resources committee, the committee where all wilderness bills must pass through and we could easily have a pro-wilderness President elected in November. Instead, critics propose that we turn more roadless areas over to loggers. For example, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge proposal would open up 200,000 acres of roadless land to be logged under the excuse that we have to make concessions to the timber industry. The problem is that not only are these roadless lands important for the long term survival of many species, but it would cost taxpayers millions.
The Forest Service’s budget shows that the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest loses over $1400 per acre when they log. To log 70,000 acres over the next ten years as the Beaverhead-Deerlodge proposal requires would cost taxpayers $98 million.
NREPA offers a better way to create jobs. It establishes a pilot wildland recovery system. Over 6,000 miles of damaging or unused roads will be restored to roadless conditions, providing employment for over 2,000 workers while saving tax-dollars from subsidized development.
NREPA produces more jobs because of the habitat restoration work associated with wildland recovery areas. The costs of this work will be approximately $130 million over ten years. This cost is $245 million less than the $375 million projected net loss for logging these areas.
Moreover, the number of timber jobs will continue to decline with technological advancement. Capital intensive technology is the main cause of the fall in timber related employment, not lack of trees. Employment in the wood products industry in Montana peaked in 1979 when 11,606 employees cut and milled 1 billion board feet of timber. In 1989, the timber industry harvested a record amount of timber, almost 1.3 billion board feet, but only 9,315 people were employed. In 2006, 926 million board feet was cut and milled by 3,524 people. In the last 27 years employment has decrease 70% while timber production has only decreased 7%.
The Forest Service, in a 2000 report titled Water and the Forest Service, found that water originating from lands that NREPA would protect has a value of at least $1 billion. It makes no economic sense to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on logging that harms the most valuable commodity our forests produce, water.
NREPA saves taxpayers millions of dollars, creates more jobs, provides maximum protection for endangered species habitat, and improves the economic viability of the northern Rockies.
Michael Garrity is executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
Wilderness Can Bring Montanans Together
By Tim Baker
For 50 years, the Montana Wilderness Association has been making sure that Montanans have the opportunity to fight for those wild areas that deserve to be protected as wilderness. And for good reason.
Wilderness symbolizes American freedom at its best, preserving our values of self-reliance and independence. Where the pack trail begins, we not only find clear water and abundant wildlife, we find ourselves. Ask anyone who has spent a week hiking or horseback riding in the Bob Marshall. You’re not the same person when you’re done, and the lessons learned on the trail last the rest of your life.
To keep wilderness for future generations, Congress must come together and pass a law. Under the best of circumstances, this is a huge undertaking. Today, with Congress deeply divided and so many other significant issues on the table, it’s a minor miracle. To pass a wilderness bill there must be significant support among the state’s everyday citizens, as legislative tradition requires support of the state’s Congressional delegation.
Wilderness in Montana simply won’t happen without the support of Montanans.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership is all about bringing Montanans together around a common vision for our forests, and building a future that includes wilderness. As Montanans representing five wood products companies and three conservation groups, together we’ve drafted legislation for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest that is centered on two primary objectives:
First, it would protect with wilderness designation the best wild public lands on the forest, for future generations to enjoy (560,000 acres, including 14 new wilderness areas).
Second, it would put Montanans to work by producing wood products using restoration-forestry, including activities that fix damaged habitat and recreational areas.
We’ve discussed our proposal, face to face, with many organizations, local governments, lawmakers, and countless individuals. Already, the Partnership approach has garnered the praise of statewide elected officials from both parties–not to mention the support of seven county commissions, and groups as diverse as the Montana Wildlife Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Montana Logging Association.
Just as important as the Partnership proposal itself are the positive relationships we’ve developed with many other Montanans. This is a real Montana success story. This is how wilderness can happen.
It’s the story of the backcountry horseman, who wants to ride the traditional pack and saddle trails of the East Pioneers in solitude.
It’s the story of the millworker in Deer Lodge, who wants to earn a decent wage and live in a prosperous community with a good quality of life.
It’s the story of the angler on the Big Hole, who wants to know that native trout populations in southwest Montana are healthy.
This is a story of Montanans rolling up their sleeves and challenging each other to understand the other’s perspective.
And for this reason alone, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership has already been a huge success. But we’re not done, and legislation to make this vision a reality is our next step.
This is about building trust, and believing in the best part of human nature. No one interest will ever get all that it wants, but by working together we can achieve our most noble common goals: A healthier economy, robust forests, improved fish and wildlife habitat, enhanced recreational opportunities, reduced fire risk to communities, and permanent protection of Montana’s most beloved wild places.
This is also the story of the Montana Wilderness Association, which believes in the power of people and places, and recognizes that the New West will bring more challenges to wilderness, not fewer. It’s been 25 years since Congress designated new wilderness in Montana, and sometimes the best solution to a difficult problem is to leave the past and move forward. With the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership, wilderness is back where it belongs, in the Montana mainstream.
That this is happening in Montana shouldn’t be surprising to Montanans. After all, in the end most of us live here for the same reasons.
We all get shivers when we hear an elk bugle. We all smile in wonder when we watch a Charlie Russell sunset light up the sky. And we all have a favorite small town, even if we don’t live there.
As Montanans, we all love this special place we call home.
And, as Montanans, we all know, deep down, that the way forward is together, not apart.
Tim Baker is the Executive Director of the Montana Wilderness Association.