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UPDATED, 10 am, 2-18-10: After seeing this article, two more former MWA council members, Susan Colvin and Dan Heinz (past vice-president) have joined the list and signed the letter opposing Tester's bill, bringing the total to 18. Anybody who has followed the torturous, eight-month path of Senator Jon Tester's (D-MT) Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, S. 1470, already knows the bill has caused a split among conservationists. But that split just got a lot more more serious.

Tester’s Bill Causing Major Rift Among Wilderness Advocates

UPDATED, 10 am, 2-18-10: After seeing this article, two more former MWA council members, Susan Colvin and Dan Heinz (past vice-president) have joined the list and signed the letter opposing Tester’s bill, bringing the total to 18.

Anybody who has followed the torturous, eight-month path of Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, S. 1470, already knows the bill has caused a split among conservationists. But that split just got a lot more more serious.

From the day Tester announced the bill last July at a timber mill in Townsend, Montana, a broad coalition of 54 conservation groups called the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign (LBPWC) has opposed the bill while the state’s primary wilderness advocate, the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA), has not only supported S. 1470, but also helped create it. Two other major environmental groups, Montana Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation, joined MWA in a combine with representatives of the wood products industry to write and push for passage of S. 1470.

Now, it seems, serious dissension has broken out within the ranks of the MWA.

Sixteen former MWA council members and officers, including three past-presidents, have released a public statement to the media urging Senator Tester to modify S. 1470 to be more in line with the position outlined by the LBPWC.

“It is with a heavy heart that we are compelled to oppose the organization that we once served as council members and officers,” the group wrote in the statement. “Most of Montana’s undeveloped wilds are long gone, and we cannot afford to lose big chunks of what remains.”

They went on to say that the MWA has “lost its way” in recent years and compromised too much. “We know many current and former MWA members who agree,” they added.

Here is the complete text of the letter:

We, the undersigned former council members and officers of the Montana Wilderness Association, respectfully urge Senator Tester to modify the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2009 to rectify the problems outlined by the Undersecretary of Agriculture as well as the Last Best Chance Wildlands Campaign. We cannot support the legislation as now written. We diverge from MWA here because we believe that the bill degrades both the quantity and quality of some of America’s most cherished wildlands in Montana. We encourage consideration of the issues we have outlined below that would be necessary in order for us to support it.

We endorse the 10-point position paper, Keeping It Wild! In Defense of America’s Public Wildlands, which has been submitted by the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign.

The bill legislates the net loss of hundreds of thousands of roadless area acres, including S.393 Wilderness Study Areas designated in 1977 by the late Senator Lee Metcalf. This will create widespread environmental damage and the loss of an irreplaceable legacy for which future generations will, quite correctly, hold ours accountable. Also, the bills’ Congressional mandate for timber cut levels sets a dangerous precedent. Resulting below-cost timber sales will cost taxpayers over $100 million. And proposed new Wilderness Areas are small, often disjointed, primarily “rock and ice” parcels that would fail to protect fragile wildland and wildlife ecosystems and corridors.

To make matters worse, the bill includes special provisions for new “Wilderness” units that defy both the intent and letter of the Wilderness Act, and the spirit of Wilderness that so many Americans believe is a vital and wondrous part of this great nation’s heritage. Motor Vehicles, including helicopters, simply have no place in designated Wilderness. Yes, we need more Wilderness – lots of it – but we want it to be real Wilderness!

The bill also codifies secretive negotiated agreements–such as the Beaverhead-Deerlodge–that excluded many individuals and groups who’ve long been involved in the public process. This, and similar agreements, have been sealed by MWA and others over the objections of excluded organizations and individuals, of whom most live and work close to the land and know the compromised areas intimately.

It is with a heavy heart that we are compelled to oppose the organization that we once served as council members and officers. Most of Montana’s undeveloped wilds are long gone, and we cannot afford to lose big chunks of what remains. We believe that in recent years, the Montana Wilderness Association [MWA] has clearly compromised its long-held wildland protection mission and vigilant advocacy. We know many current and former MWA members who agree. In fact, many conservationists in the region are convinced that, quite simply, MWA has lost its way. We are among those people.

In summary, this bill will irreparably damage Montana’s dwindling public wildland legacy. It will salt the gaping social wounds created by MWA’s recent actions. It degrades the Wilderness Act of 1964 with provisions that damage both Wilderness and the Wilderness Idea. And it’s a bad deal for future generations of Montanans who will need wild country more than ever in an increasingly crowded and uncertain future.

Signed by: Lou Bruno (past president), Joan Montagne (past president), Elaine Snyder (past president), and Loren Kreck (past vice-president), plus the following former council members: Larry Campbell, Susan Colvin, Paul Edwards, Randall Gloege, Keith Hammer, Steve Kelly, Lance Olsen, Bob Oset, Paul Richards, Ross Titus, George Wuerthner, and Janet Zimmerman

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

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