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After thinking about it for about forty years, I've finally decided to throw out an idea for solving Montana's totally messed up, mean-spirited, seemingly endless wilderness debate. And it might work in other states, too. If I were your senator (scary thought, eh?), I'd much prefer to address this thorny issue all at once instead of stringing it out for decades. This is opposite of piecemeal approach preferred your real Senators, including Jon Tester (D-MT) and his beleaguered Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, S. 1470. I admire Tester's effort, and I've supported S. 1470, (with two amendments he rejected), but this bill virtually guarantees we'll be fighting over the last roadless lands for the rest of my life.

As Your Senator, Here’s How I’d End the War over Wilderness

After thinking about it for about forty years, I’ve finally decided to throw out an idea for solving Montana’s totally messed up, mean-spirited, seemingly endless wilderness debate. And it might work in other states, too.

If I were your senator (scary thought, eh?), I’d much prefer to address this thorny issue all at once instead of stringing it out for decades. This is opposite of piecemeal approach preferred your real Senators, including Jon Tester (D-MT) and his beleaguered Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, S. 1470. I admire Tester’s effort, and I’ve supported S. 1470, (with two amendments he rejected), but this bill virtually guarantees we’ll be fighting over the last roadless lands for the rest of my life.

Setting the Stage

Here are some key numbers, rounded-off. In Montana, all 94 million acres of it, we have 25 million acres are federal land managed by the Forest Service (17 million) and Bureau of Land Management (8 million). Out of the 25 million acres, 3.4 million acres are already Wilderness and an additional 6.4 million acres are considered roadless.

Put another way, we have already designated 3.7 percent of Montana (13.6 percent of the federal lands) as Wilderness, and if we also made all 6.4 million acres of roadless lands Wilderness, it would add up to 10.4 percent of the state (39 percent of the federal lands). If we continue to do nothing, almost all of the 6.4 million acres will likely continue to be essentially managed as wilderness.

(I decided, incidentally, to leave National Park Service- and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-managed lands out of my plan. The current debate is not focused on these lands.)

As Your Senator, I Would….

I’d be one of those rare politicians who would feel obligated to serve all the people of my state, even those who didn’t support me during my never-ending campaign, so I’d try hard to address the desires of the three major (but not the only) players in the wilderness debate–conservationists, the wood products industry and motorized recreation.

Since I’m a well-known wilderness advocate, I could simply introduce a bill to make most of the 6.4 million acres Wilderness and let my unsupportive constituents fend for themselves, but that approach not only has little chance of success, it would also be counter to my inclusive policy of serving all Montana residents. So, I came up with this idea.

The Grand Compromise

First, for this senator, is the conservation constituency. Many of my green supporters want it all, but I know they won’t get it all, so I’d look at that 6.4 million acres and pick out the least controversial areas such as the Great Burn, Roderick Mountain, Rocky Mountain Front, the additions to existing Wilderness in S. 1470, perhaps a few of the other areas, and most important, those areas championed by late Senator Lee Metcalf, the remaining seven wildlands in the 1977 Montana Wilderness Study Act (S.393)–Big Snowies, Middle Fork of the Judith, Ten Lakes, Blue Joint, Sapphire Mountains, West Pioneers, Mount Henry, and the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn (Gallatin Range). Keeping in mind that, with very minor exceptions, these roadless areas are not now–nor are they likely to ever be–open to timber management or motorized recreation, I’d combine them into a true statewide Wilderness bill.

Then, I’d take most, but not all, of the remaining roadless lands and designate them as Backcountry, my term for the so-called “Wilderness Lite” option–a less-restrictive designation than Wilderness. I’d be open to some horse-trading as to what would be allowed or disallowed in Backcountry (or even what it’s called), and even to the option of downgrading one or two of the S.393 areas, such as the Gallatin Range, to Backcountry.

Backcountry would be open to all non-motorized recreation, including bicycling, but not open to road-building or motorized recreation–except, perhaps, for emergency fire-fighting and rehabbing bug-killed forestland, as long as the roads are restored. Actually, Backcountry status would closely resemble the current management of these roadless lands, but it would be congressionally mandated instead of subject to administrative whims.

Second, to address what I’m hearing from the wood products industry, I’d “hard release” all of Montana’s federal land not inventoried as roadless or designated as Wilderness, plus some roadless lands that aren’t really roadless, everything except what’s included in my bill as Wilderness or Backcountry. Hard to come with an exact figure, but this would be around 16 million acres in all, 64 percent of our federal lands.

My “hard release” bill would make this vast acreage available for motorized recreation, logging, mining and any other single use that might be appropriate and favored by local officials and managing agencies. The local planning process would dictate the ultimate use of each acre, each mile of trail.

Then, I’d say, let’s get serious about jobs. It’s every politician’s priority, correct? A measly 70,000 acres cut over ten years, as mandated in S.1470, is tokenism. We already have much more timber under contract and available for logging.

My bill would be market-driven, not acreage-driven, and include whatever streamlining of the appeals process that’s possible without violating or re-writing federal laws and regulations. I’d also include whatever federal help or subsidy I could get through Congress to help the wood products industry develop that elusive market for bug-killed pines and then fast-track salvage logging–not on thousands of acres, but on hundreds of thousands of acres, of forestland along permanent roads.

Third, and if my second point hasn’t already given my greenish friends heart attacks, this should finish them off. In my bill, I’d try to do something especially for the motorized recreation advocates, even though they didn’t vote for me and probably never will.

When talking about the bitter impasse between motorized and non-motorized users, I’ve heard conservationists ask, what’s the problem? The “motorheads” already have 60 percent of the federal lands and 90 percent of the state. But that isn’t true.

Local travel plans have closed part of the 60 percent to public motorized use, as have most private landowners. Nobody knows the real acreage currently open to motorized use, but it’s still a lot.

ATVers feel depressed about being squeezed off so much of their land, and now, they’re saying “no more,” Since I’m unfamiliar with what motorheads want, I asked them what could I do, as their senator, to get them feeling okay at the finish line.

The answer was a congressional mandate that roads and trails currently open to motorized use would remain open with no chance of closure by future administrative action. They’d be okay with most roadless lands remaining roadless and non-motorized, i.e. the status quo, if the remaining federal land now open to motorized use stayed open.

Yep, it’s that simple. And I suspect many conservationists would agree with this solution. In some cases, we’d have to finish travel plans, but once the local planning process is complete, the key is making this mandate as ironclad as a Wilderness designation. That’s what I’d do in my bill.

In addition, I’d propose designating a few large tracts of federal land, perhaps even entire mountain ranges, as what I’ll name Motor Parks, places where enjoyment of the outdoors with motorized vehicles is the management priority.

As your senator, I’d call this my “spreading the pain” approach. Right now, ATVers feel all the pain, and hikers feel all of the gain. Hikers rarely if ever have one of their favorite trails closed off to hiking forever, but ATVers commonly experience such closures.

Hikers have a lot of areas to call their own, all wilderness areas and national parks for starters, plus other areas closed to motorized use for various reasons. But ATVers don’t have any public land in Montana to call their own. Not yet, at least, until I get my bill passed.

At this moment, I’m thinking of a mountain range in Montana that shall remain nameless, so we don’t get off track and focus on it instead of the issue of ending the Wilderness War. This range has about 200,000 acres, half of it federal land. It has a core of a roadless land, but the entire range is fragmented by a series of old roads heavily used by ATVers, so it’s difficult to get much separation between motorized and non-motorized users. I’ve hiked in these mountains several times. I even have two routes from this range in my book, Hiking Montana.

As a senator, I have to remember that I represent all my constituents, not just hikers, so I’m saying to myself that if I had to give up ever going hiking there again and support making it a Motor Park, in exchange for getting a statewide Wilderness bill passed, I’d do it. Ditto for one or two other areas. Again, designation needs to be an ironclad, no different than a Wilderness.

In these Motor Parks, agencies would have to install management policy to protect wildlife and water quality, but motorized use would take priority over other recreation.

And yes, if it isn’t obvious, I long ago gave up on “multiple use trails,” a favorite agency strategy to put both motorized and non-motorized users on the same trail. Let’s face it. The social conflict is nearly irresolvable and mandates separation.

Why All Three Stakeholders Would Support My Bill

After getting all three sections of my 1,000-page bill, the Montana Wilderness Drought Relief Act, drafted and circulated for comment among the stakeholders in advance of introduction, I’d ask each of my three constituencies to support the whole deal, not just part of it, which shouldn’t be so hard to do because they all emerge as winners. Consider this.

Conservationists get new Wilderness and Backcountry protection for most of the last 6.4 million acres of roadless land.

The wood products industry can stop battling wildernuts and concentrate on business and have authority to cut almost anywhere in roughly 64 percent of our federal lands. And more important, industry gets federal help to develop a market for millions of dead or dying trees blighting our landscape.

ATVers give up getting into roadless lands, almost all off limits to them now, but they get two or three dedicated Motor Parks and an guaranteed no-net-loss for much of the remaining 60 percent of the state’s federal lands.

The result? All three constituencies served and the end of the Wilderness War.

I admit it’s a simplistic plan, sort of like an oversized skeleton that needs a lot of meat on it, but we can do that. And in conclusion, let me ask you the one question plaguing all politicians. If I did all the above, would you vote for me in the next election?

Footnote: For more NewWest.Net coverage of Montana’s Wilderness Drought, click here.

About Bill Schneider

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41 comments

  1. Sadly, Congress has already ignored the forest legislation shoved through Congress last year, amended and attached to a completely unrelated bill. Too bad Congress now chooses not to read what they are signing. Sorry, folks, but Congress wants to write new laws that contradict established environmental laws under NEPA. Schneider doesn’t factor in the huge acreage of streamside zones that are hands-off to the timber industry. Doesn’t factor in the wildlife protection zones. Doesn’t factor in all the protected botanical areas. Doesn’t factor in the “potential habitat” that is protected, as well. The eco-groups are not going to drop their highly profitable litigation program that seeks to eliminate timber sales on public lands. Simply another bait and switch technique to lock up more forests to die, rot and burn.

  2. Go for it, Senator Schneider. But first check in with a certain Idaho Rep. that has done just as you suggest. Its being held up by a polarized congress even as we speak.

  3. Dear Senator,

    Why impose arbitrary constraints on proposed legislation before considering the ALL the values, benefits and costs associated with federal public land management?

    There is so much more to consider beyond the artificial bounaries of the conventional state-by-state approach.

    Why prioritize human use above all other living things? Why totally ignore the threats to biodiversity? No mention of the foundational elements for life (water, topsoil, habitat conditions, including security from humans) in the ecosystems upon which these living things depend?

    Why legislate at all if others actively protecting roadless areas today are getting the job done. I believe you said: “If we continue to do nothing, almost all of the 6.4 million acres will likely continue to be essentially managed as wilderness.” Of course, “do nothing” does not nearly describe the past or current situation, but that’s another inconvenient dimension to this story you choose to omit.

    If this is the best you can do to last functioning ecosystems in the Lower 48, may I respectfully suggest stepping aside, perhaps turn your attention to private lands recreational access, reducing timber and carbon-based energy subsidies or universal health care.

  4. The biggest fad in Congress is for our lawmakers to pump up their green creds. In fact, it is political suicide for an eastern Congressman to not vote for wilderness in other states. It’s a nice, safe no-brainer move for them, without any responsibility or caring for the “unintended consequences” of the green policy fad. In fact, the Omnibus Bill had such serious mandates upon the west, that it couldn’t pass with the 60 votes needed. Every eastern Congressmen voted for it in the House. So, in a desperate attempt to pass all these items that could never stand on their own, they finally attached all these important pork barrel projects to a totally unrelated bill that had already passed the Senate.

    Why do we need new legislation when we already have a comprehensive law on the books that hasn’t been given a chance to work?

  5. Thanks for a provocative and interesting column.

  6. Actually, we should place the public domain into the national wildlife refuge system. Better, more ecological laws. Hunting and fishing guaranteed.

    RH

  7. This may not be *the* solution, but it’s just the kind of creative thinking we need. I especially like the idea of circulating a draft bill to *everyone* with an interest in these issues. (Now thre’s a novel idea!) Sen. Schneider gets my vote, but Sen. Tester’s convoluted bill does not.

  8. I’ll bet you’re a riot after a couple of beers.

  9. “wilderness lite”?

    I have heard that phrase before and a lot of what you propose in the article.

    Time to come clean Bill.

    Backcountry Hunters and Anglers? TU’s Public Lands Initiative?

    Come on Bill….give credit!!

  10. johnny on the spot

    This is a great idea, because, as the health care debate proves, comprehensive legislation just works so darn well.

    (Sorry Bill, no offense to your plan, nothing in Washington wins or loses based upon its merits.)

  11. Runs-with-elk,

    Sorry to disappoint you, but I did not use any other source as a basis of this column, so no credit to give. But it wouldn’t surprise me if some of this approach to the problem has been proposed by others. Actually, I hope many others are thinking along the same line. It might help us move forward.

    Bill

  12. Bill needs to adjust that 64% figure he’s touting. Be sure to throw out all those acres that are too steep for tractor logging (which is quite numerous in the state of Montana). And be sure to subtract all the other acres that have some sort of untouchable protections that the litigating community will not excuse. This kind of trade didn’t work for the spotted owls and the loggers of Oregon and Washington. The situation is the same in trading “wilderness” in the form of spotted owl zones for a “promised” level of logging and protective restrictions. Sadly, no one, including the spotted owls, won that trade-off. Gridlock, wildfires and more litigation followed and that is exactly what the eco-community has in mind for the entire west.

    Basically, this is more like extortion on the loggers and lumber mills. The land’s offered by Schneider aren’t currently off the table, except for the promise of more lawsuits and court battles. The eco’s demand that they get more new wilderness or they are going to continue to monkeywrench the system (and embrace the terrible impacts of “unstewardship”). The eco’s offer the loggers nothing but more of the same. The desperate loggers and mills think they might be able to weasel some projects through the courts but, the big eco-groups aren’t going to sign off on your bill, Bill.

  13. Nicely provocative, Bill. A couple of points:

    First, I’m sure you could bring this bill in under 1,000 pages. Maybe 900, tops.

    You’ll save a few pages by eliminating the “hard release” section. About the only thing Tester got right in his comments about what he will or will not change to S. 1470 is that Congress will never pass legislation that contrains a future Congress. I know you’re bill is hypothetical at best, but everyone should stop waving “hard release” as some kind of answer to anything.

    In a similar vein, you’d have to tweak that “in the future, no one can ever close a route that is currently being used.” Conditions on the ground change over the decades. Make it hard to change, yes — but not impossible without another Act.

    And finally, let’s remember that the recreational value of wilderness is just one component of their worth. This is a big problem with the selection (and omission) of areas in S. 1470 — that flawed bill really is concerned only with Jobs and Recreation. We’ve gotten to the point that wildernesses should be designated at least as much for their biological value as their recreational experience — so while we’re figuring out a biological configuration of wild lands, I guess we’ll just have to include areas managed by NPS and FWS.

    Oops — back up to 1,000 pages….

  14. johnny on the spot

    Bill,

    In case you didn’t want to read Fotoware’s comment I’ve hit the highlights for you:

    untouchable protections, litigating community, spotted owls, loggers, trading “wilderness”, owl zones, “promised” level of logging, protective restrictions, Gridlock, wildfires, more litigation, eco-community, entire west, extortion, loggers and lumber mills, off the table, promise, more lawsuits, court battles, eco’s demand, new wilderness, monkeywrench, “unstewardship”, more of the same, desperate loggers and mills, weasel, projects, courts, big eco-groups, sign off.

    There you go, pure, 100%, concentrated rhetoric. Take in small doses.

  15. Yep, johnny, those all would apply before AND after Schneider’s bill. Unless he can magically wave a wand and eliminate all frivilous lawsuits AND change many NEPA rules, then maybe the loggers can work on small isolated portions of that “64%” that will be still open to litigation. Some eco-groups are quite willing to allow the mere *potential* of logging in some areas for a permanent exchange for locked-up wilderness. They know quite well that any timber project that cuts excess merchantable trees will be blanket-litigated by hardline eco-groups. You can already see in this very short thread that some are still not willing to drop their anti-management demands.

    And Bill, we need to see you adjust that 64% figure to exclude currently excluded lands. If I understand you correctly, this “hard release” will lift NEPA restrictions and streamline fuels projects? From my 25 years in the Forest Service, I would estimate that your 64% is actually only about 15%, under current rules, laws and policies of National Forests. Yes, 15% IS still a lot of land but, let’s be realistic about what is really being offered here.

    Yes, we see through this bait and switch racket.

  16. Good thinking, Bill, but we’ve got to leave room for changing public needs over the decades ahead. If we’d made a deal like that in Oregon in 1960, there wouldn’t have been any of those old growth forests in our wilderness areas. The next generation will want to make some decisions, too.

  17. johnny on the spot

    This is classic:

    “Yes, we see through this bait and switch racket.”

    LOL, … makes me chuckle.

  18. Probably the most appealing aspect of designating all public lands in one shot is that all the organizations that justify their existence through the pursuit of Wilderness and related litigation would be hard pressed to stay in business…

    When do we vote?

  19. Bill, The ones that keep giving are the ones with marbles in the game. The eco nuts have no marbles. The Equal Access to Justice Act has turned environmentalism into a business with billions, yes billions of tax dollars going to these groups every time they prevail in a legal action and they do quite often with the liberal judges making the decisions. They will never have enough or be willing to stop fighting over the land because that would stop the gravy train.

    Dave Foreman from Earth First said a few years ago that “control of public land is not enough and we must control private land too”. He told the crowd in Arizona “I don’t care if it takes 100 years, we only have 60,000 dumb ranchers in the west.”

    The ESA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Cap and Trade, wolves, grizzlies, spotted owl, sucker fish of the Kalamath, desert tortoise, polar bear, and any other thing they can get listed or put on the threatened list helps them get the job done.

    Look at the new USDA NOI for the new Planning Rule and Climate Change is mentioned on about 6 pages even though the hole climate gate has been exposed as a hoax. Follow the money Bill and you will see why Washington D.C. is blinded.

    I will never stop fighting to protect and preserve the last remaining multiple use land which I might add is shown to provide recreation to nearly 98% of the people. I would be more than willing to give the environmentalist 3% of the federally managed land in Montana for their wilderness buddies to use because statistics show that only 2.5% of the population use wilderness areas. I would give them the extra 1/2% because I am just a good guy and want to be fair.

    50% of our forest is dead. 40% of the FS budget is spent on lawsuits filed by enviromental groups. 40% of the FS budget is spent on fire fighting. The 20% left is spent on adiministrative personnel that are over educated and have no common sense. A sad state of affairs for those of us that just want to spend time with our families out in God’s country enjoying the short amount of time we have on earth. Go figure.

    signed
    Still roping goats in Montana

  20. Forgot to respond to Mr. Kelly and his statement “security from humans”
    He may want to tell that to the 1000s of deer in the state capitol of Montana. I know he can talk to them.

    Goatropper

  21. A small idea every off road vehical must print it’s serial number ex: Artic cat 109835 h every revolution. That way the ones that are high pointing, riding thought wet lands,and other easally ruined areas could be caught. Those who didn’t have a number after three years would lose their machines automatically.

  22. Goatropper,

    Habitat security (from humans) is for many species the critical difference between their continued existence and extirpation. That’s why roadless (protected and “unprotected”) lands are important for native fish and wildlife species. But you know this, right? Our roadless areas are blessings, which helps to explain why other states have lost what we still have. Scarcity creates and enhances value, no?

    The very presence of those deer in Helena scare some politically-significant percentage of humans who no longer want to share their habitat. I have not talked to them, as you suggest, but imagine the ones killed for political reasons would simply ask for a more a little more tolerance and understanding.

    I know how this probably grates upon your utilitarian sensibilities, but Happy Valentine’s Day Goatropper. Give a big hug to those goats for me, I love them too.

  23. Soooooo, what happens when these precious “Roadless Areas” burn up at high-intensity? Where does that leave the wildlife that somehow are completely dependent on said “Roadless Area”? There are a great many recent examples of remote areas burning catastrophically.

    Spotted owls and northern goshawks depend on somewhat closed canopies to survive and thrive. They also share habitat, at least until the goshawk eats the spotted owl so, that makes the remaining habitat that much more important. Many listed species are there because of “habitat loss”. Is government-sponsored wildfires a way of ensuring that these species never fully recover, staying forever listed? Wolverines, fishers and other listed animals also do not benefit from catastrophic wildfires.

  24. Fotoware,

    Why the extreme cynicism? Why the fixation on wildfire? Overblown don’t you think? I imagine it must be frustrating after a lifetime of logging and roadbuilding to witness nature’s disregard for “management.” Nature bats last, get used to it.

    Somewhere I heard over half of the hottest fires are man-caused and start near roads. Why obsess over roadless wildfires? Rather than chasing every fire, why not prioritize areas closest to roads and structures? After forests burn, rot and die, do they not regenerate, beginning the new growth cycle?

  25. I obsess over ALL wildfires that destroy forests and habitat, damage soils, impact water supplies, destroy heritage sites, burn out of control on to private lands, drain state fire fighting budgets, steal funds away from beneficial projects, incinerates protected botanical sites, causes plugged culverts and washed-out roads.
    Most of my 25 year career has been spent on salvage projects, both dealing with bark beetles and wildfires. I have seen the extreme damage up close, and personal. I knew what was under the thick manzanita in the escaped Big Meadow fire in Yosemite. I saw the extreme mortality within the Biscuit Fire. I’ve seen the brush growing back on the McNally fire, already far outcompeting the few scarce tree seedlings. I’ve seen the massive erosion that comes with catastrophic wildfires when 150,000 cubic yards of soil and rock came down and dammed up the Boise River, within the 200,000 acre Rabbit Creek fire in Idaho. I’ve seen one out of every 3 trees in the Tahoe Basin die and fall over, but still waiting for that inevitable spark of lightning or a careless human’s mistake. I’ve seen the aftermath of the LA/SD fires, along with the extreme mortality that kills 100% of the ponderosa pines, in many areas.
    The cumulative impacts of “unmanagement” has reached the tipping point in our forests. In all too many areas, we have already lost the battle. We have 7 million acres of dead forests, just waiting to burn up. Colorado had a one year increase of over 500,000 acres alone.
    “Nature” will surely “rebalance” forests in ways us humans will NOT like. “Nature” doesn’t care if it takes 500 years to re-establish old growth forests, even if us humans are fenced off from “interfering”. Maybe the “beautiful people” of Sun Valley and Bend will now change their minds about the value of forest thinning, eh?
    To me, from a timber standpoint, most Roadless Areas that are truly roadless don’t have much timber worth going after. I, too, think that we have too many roads, and some can be obliterated while some can be merely closed or used exclusively for tightly controlled motorized recreation. From a mining and oil standpoint, I think that Roadless Areas could be vulnerable to those kinds of activities. I’m not a fan of those uses.
    In the end, I am just trying to share my observations and opinions, with protection of our forests as my main motivation. I have no economic or employment ties to either the timber industry or the Forest Service. I ask everyone to apply the “Precautionary Principle” to catastrophic wildfires and overstocked, unhealthy forests.

    “What if?” is now becoming “WTF?”

  26. Hey, Obama has subsidized and bailed out lots of things so far during his term. With a tiny fraction of what has been already handed out, I’d be all for it to “bail out” our forests next. In the very near future, restoration of existing at-risk forests will be impossible and we’ll just have to resign ourselves to having less forests and no old growth left in our dry western forests. Just leaving “Nature” to do whatever happens goes against many of the environmental laws we have had on the books for years. You can’t just require government agencies to ignore certain laws and embrace other ones you like. I suggest we follow the one already voted in by Congress and signed by the President, Mr. Change, Barack Obama, himself. Give him a hand folks, and don’t forget to tip your waitresses!

  27. Testers “wilderness” bill sets a dangerous precedent for all national forests. We need to block it and work on establishing protection for every roadless area in the national forest system with a decisive and all-encompassing top down action.

  28. Come hell or high water wilderness geeks will have to share existing roadless areas with other users. Its called multiple use.

  29. Mickey – Wilderness is mulitple use.

    What’s funny about this entire page(everyone’s comments) is that the word “wildlife” is mentioned maybe once. Don’t you think that is strange considering most of these lands being discussed are home to non-human creatures? Perhaps we need to think outside of our little daily paths and factor in something that (GASP!) doesn’t focus solely on our own needs.

  30. Great! Then we all agree! Some for logging. Some for motorized recreation! Some for Wilderness Geeks and Wildlife will be allowed to wander wherever they please. The Tester and Schneider bill passes! Glad we solved that problem!

  31. Hmmm, just read Sen. Schneider’s proposal again and I still like it–a lot. But I noticed that you singled out the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn WSA as one that might be considered for downgraded “backcounry” status. The Gallatin Range is one of the choicest of the S.393 areas. What’s your thinking re “backcountry” designation for this gem?

  32. Treehuggin' Cowgirl

    Bill,

    I appreciate your comprehensive approach to dealing with land management issues in Montana, but I do see a major flaw. Congress is incredibly inefficient at getting things done and even slower at reversing old actions. We still have a Hard Rock Mining Act from two centuries ago. As big of a bureaucratic mess as our land management agencies are, they’re substantially more adaptable and responsive to change than Congress ever could be.

    Why is this a problem? We don’t know everything about how our ecosystems work. We act on educated information as best we know how, but we’re not always right. What if one of those motorized trails that was Congressionally mandated to be permanently open developed an unmitigatable erosion problem. What if it contaminated a bull trout fishery? How long do you think it would take Congress to pass a new bill allowing the agency to close that trail?

    A centralized body in DC cannot successfully manage our lands. The managing body needs to be adaptable and able to address the specific ecological, social and economic needs of an area. The Forest Service has been struggling to move in this direction but is hampered by a lack of public trust (not necessarily unearned), agency culture and ever more strictly interpreted process legislation. The Forest Service will have to re-earn the public trust before they can manage in a more flexible and efficient manner, but we need to steer them in that direction instead of putting up roadblocks to any kind of change.

    The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is a wonderful experiment that will challenge the Forest Service to move forward instead of being buried in process. The mechanical treatment acreage (remember it used to be board feet) mandates may or may not be effective, but either way, we’ll learn valuable lessons about what does and does not work as we begin the arduous process and reforming the Forest Service’s planning procedures.

    Erin

  33. Well said, Erin.

  34. The Forest Service hasn’t and won’t be allowed to regain trust. When we have Congressmen and judges wanting to tell the Forest Service how to go about their business, maybe its time to give up and let this ongoing disaster run its course over the next many decades? The Forest Service is a rudderless ship, being blown by cruel political winds which takes us farther and farther away from our destination of healthy, vigorous and resilient National Forests.

  35. Treehuggin' Cowgirl

    Fotoware,

    What’s your plan then? I’m not yet cynical enough to just accept that things will only get worse. Attitudes in the West may change one funeral at a time, but they’re changing. Collaboration is actively taught in both Forestry and Environmental Studies programs. Montana Wilderness Association, the Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation, Montana Trout Unlimited and other local environmental groups sat down with members of the logging industry to build conservation proposals that include both wilderness and logging.

    Whether or not S. 1470 passes into law, these interest groups have built relationships and will continue to jointly work for better land management in the future. These collaborations were not about selling out or making a deal with the devil. Both sides have learned that they agree more than they disagree and need each other to keep our public lands healthy and intact.

    Erin

  36. My plan would be the simplest of all. Restore forests back to their original, historic, pre-European stocking levels, structural diversity and species composition. Unfortunately, that goes against those eco-groups desires. Or, maybe I should say, that they diagree how we are going to get there. The Tillamook Burn is a great example of how forests can be MANAGED back to health. The success has been so great that some are now calling for management to cease on those lands. Some mills have uneven management programs that are being hailed by forest scientists as a quantum leap in how forests are managed.

    Unless we reduce tree densities in all classes closer to level that the current rainfall patterns can support, we will continue to get bark beetle attacks and catastrophic wildfires that do a lot more than just “recycle nutrients” and “renew forests”. Clearcuts do the same thing but, that also isn’t a good thing for forests.

    Until you start trusting the people who have the well-rounded scientific knowledge and hands-on experience in knowing what works for one piece of land (and what doesn’t), any blanket “protections” are doomed to failure in today’s forests. Forest Service “ologists” are often highly motivated and dedicated to do their jobs and “protect their turf”. They support and guide foresters in restoring forests. Stop painting tham as clearcutting, stream-choking, dirt-moving yay-who’s in the back pocket of the timber industry. I haven’t seen any of THEM since the 80’s. folks.

    So, you can be a part of the solution, or you can support the problems with more litigation, more limits and more obscene mortality and environmental degradation.

  37. Treehuggin' Cowgirl

    Fotoware,

    But how will you get the Forest Service to do that? I don’t disagree with you, although I don’t think active management is appropriate for every piece of ground. There are always two questions: Where do we want to be? and How do we get there? I haven’t found any magic wands lately, so the second question is at least as important as the first.

    We also need to maintain an appropriate level of humility. We’re always learning new information that may change the way we manage our forests. All of the “ologists” in the world can’t tell us how to manage for climate change.

    You seem to agree with me that the public needs to trust our land managers. How do we get there?

    Erin

  38. In my 25 year career, most of the Forest Service foresters I have met were not driven to maximizing board feet. Sure, there are some guys from the old school of “get the cut out” but, the remaining guys would be very happy to have a sustainable, reliable, sensible and scientifically sound program of restoration forestry, where board feet are the inevitable “happy side effects” of forest restoration but, not the focus.

    Imagine the Forest Service with a robust timber sale program that cuts understory trees and reduces fuels over large acreages with an all lands approach. Imagine having individual projects queued up five years in advance, allowing for scrutiny and collaboration well in advance of operations and contract offerings. Imagine well-planned summer work seasons that keep small-log mills working sustainably, boosting rural employment and diminishing the effects of overcrowding and climate change.

    Of course there are areas unsuitable for management. We have a great many areas already set aside for exactly that. Along with those “unmanagement zones”, are areas, like lava caps, talus slopes and steep ground, that management either isn’t necessary or is uneconomical. Remember, “commercial logging” includes projects that harvest trees down to 9-10″ dbh. Dr. Jerry Franklin has said that the biggest threats to our old growth is catastrophic wildfire and not logging. Many scientists advocate mechanical thinning in old growth stands to remove ladder fuels and enhance the water table and drought resistance.

    We DO know how to do these things with careful planning and impact mitigation. The only folks who know how to do this right are the land managers and the “ologists” who care about the lands they are responsible for. There is no one else more qualified and skilled at doing this work. However, the public still needs to understand and monitor what the Forest Service does. Basically, come to agreement on beneficial timber projects that thin forests of many sizes of trees over a wide area then, make them stick to the agreement to the letter. Yes, there ARE still some units out there that try to “cheat” to boost timber volumes (and the county dollars that go along with it). Walk the talk! Too bad I don’t know that Russian phrase that means “trust but verify”….lol

    (No, I’m not a Conservative or a Reaganite…it is just an appropriate quip)

  39. The “ride center” idea is also being pursued by IMBA for mountain biking. I think it’s a great idea.

  40. I had the pleasure of working in a huge area set aside for motorized recreation on the Los Padres National Forest. The Ballenger facility has sweeping vistas and varied terrain. My job was to satellite map both approved trails and unwanted trails. I came there as a beginner on a quad but, after 8 days, I became pretty competent. From the looks of it, Ballenger is well-designed and a complete success. And this, coming from a dedicated wilderness hiker. I’m not a fan of uncontrolled machines but, there is plenty of land and some compromises can be made.

    “Multiple Use” should also apply to recreation, though, not in the same spots. Even if Tester’s bill finds some way to pass, the timber portions of the bill will not survive the inevitable litigation.

  41. I was surprised to see that you classified the Rocky Mountain Front as one of the least polarized areas in the wilderness debate. Ah contrare! As a citizen of Choteau (on the Front), we had packed meeting rooms this past fall with grand opposition.

    The Front is the buffer zone to the great Bob Marshall Wilderness and also home to grazing permits, recreation, skiing, and outfitting, so we had lots of debate.