In early March, 14 prominent conservation leaders, including retired Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth, retired regional forester John Mumma, former congressman Pat Williams, longtime outfitter Smoke Elser and Jim Posewitz, president of Orion, The Hunter’s Institute, urged Montana’s congressional delegation to stop stonewalling make introducing and passing a statewide Wilderness bill a “top priority.”
In response, the delegation did what they’ve been doing for years. Nothing.
A few weeks later, conservation leader George Wuerthner actually presented a detailed list of areas that should be in a statewide wilderness bill.
In response, more nothing.
Now, Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Congressman Dennis Rehberg have received another call for more Wilderness, this time from several prominent business people who want more Wilderness in northwest Montana because it creates jobs and is good for business.
Will they get the same response? Or will Wilderness becoming a pro-business mission do what it takes to get our delegation off the dime?
“In our area, a lot of people move here for the quality of life,” Edwin Fields, a building contractor from Whitefish, told NewWest.Net. In a phone interview, “and they build houses when they get here. People move here because of our wilderness and hire people like me to build houses and create jobs.”
Fields believes “a number of other builders” share his viewpoint. “I’ve often heard that business people aren’t conservationists, but that’s not true. Many of us are conservation-minded. People want to integrate the way they live with the natural environment, which is why wilderness is so important to our area.”
Nowadays, it seems all we hear from our delegation is jobs, jobs, jobs, so this letter should pique their interest. “I see more wilderness as a way to create more jobs,” Fields emphasized. “They go together.”
“In Northwest Montana we have many irreplaceable wildlands that are every bit as deserving of wilderness protection as the Bob Marshall or Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Areas,” agrees Carol Blake a real estate broker from Eureka. “In fact, many of these lands are used more on a day to day basis by local people than the Bob, which means they’re incredibly valuable to local communities.”
Blake, Fields and the other business people signing the letter supported the earlier letter sent by 14 conservation leaders, but asked for more focus on wilderness issues in northwest Montana, particularly for areas such as the Scotchman Peaks, Mount Henry, Great Burn, Cube Iron, Ten Lakes, Swan Crest and several other wildlands.
Among the 21 signatories, all long-time residents of northwest Montana, on the letter were former state senators George Darrow of Bigfork and Dan Weinberg of Whitefish, Thompson Falls city councilman Mark Sheets, Trout Creek building contractor Doug Ferrell, Condon millworker Mike McGrew, Whitefish doctor Ron Miller, Lindbergh Lake developer Tom Giles, and Buckskin Clothier of Kalispell owner Elaine Snyder.
“Times have changed,” Fields said. “All of us agree that protecting Montana’s last wild places as wilderness is good for business. After 26 years, now is the time to act.”
“Establishing new wilderness areas under the National Wilderness Preservation System requires vision, decisive action and a willingness to recognize the inherent value of land in its natural state,” they wrote. “We ask that you support this–our vision–of wilderness.”
“Inevitably, the value of our wildlands grows more priceless, like any resource in short supply, with each passing year,” the letter concluded. “We believe in a bright and prosperous future. We firmly believe that Montana’s economic and cultural future requires we protect our remaining wildlands.”
Footnote: Click here for more on unprotected wildland in northwest Montana.
It’s the Wilderness, Stupid