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UPDATED 10/27/09. See end of column. Anybody who reads NewWest.Net regularly might be getting a little weary of reading about Senator Jon Tester's "Jobs and Recreation Act," S. 1470. So far, by last count, we've posted twenty-two articles and columns on the bill and its impact. This includes our own coverage and several guest columns, as we've tried to give each major stakeholder a forum to voice their point of view, including one from the senator himself. (Click here to read them all.) But this bill keeps on giving out stories, it seems, such as these updates and follow-ups to earlier postings.

Tester’s Wilderness Bill, Updates

Anybody who reads NewWest.Net regularly might be getting a little weary of reading about Senator Jon Tester’s “Jobs and Recreation Act,” S. 1470. So far, by last count, we’ve posted twenty-two articles and columns on the bill and its impact. This includes our own coverage and several guest columns, as we’ve tried to give each major stakeholder a forum to voice their point of view, including one from the senator himself. (Click here to read them all.)

But this bill keeps on giving out stories, it seems, such as these updates and follow-ups to earlier postings.

Where’s Max? If you follow politics in Montana, you’ve noticed that the state’s two Democratic senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, tend to work in tandem. When one senator keys on an issue (health care, gun rights, recreation fees, border funding, et al), the other senator usually co-sponsors the bill or at least sends out a press release voicing his support. The exception is, apparently, when it comes to anything Wilderness because Senator Baucus has not come on as a co-sponsor of S. 1470, nor has he, as far as I know, said one word about the bill publicly.

No doubt Baucus has been busy trying to solve the health care crisis, but Tester introduced the bill more than three months ago, so Baucus has had plenty of time to sign on.

“Max is looking forward to learning more about this bill,” his communication director Ty Matsdorf told NewWest.Net when asked about it. “Max is proud of the efforts Senator Jon Tester has made to keep the timber industry strong. For years, Senator Tester has been a leader on timber issues. He knows how best to create good paying jobs to put Montanans back to work in the woods–all the while protecting our outdoor heritage.”

I also asked Tester’s staff to comment on why Baucus hasn’t come on board, but no response.

In other words, we have no idea why Baucus hasn’t teamed up with our junior senator to help resolve the Wilderness conflict in Montana. This might not seem like a big deal to some readers, but politically speaking, the silence is deafening. How will Tester get his bill passed when he can’t even muster support from his fellow Democratic senator in his home state?

Will the Gallatin Range court decision help save the West Pioneers? On September 29, District Judge Donald W. Molloy issued a scathing indictment of the Forest Service’s implementation of the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977, S. 393, and the agency’s scandalous policy of allowing motorized recreation in these pristine areas–in this case the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area (WSA) in the Gallatin Range south of Bozeman. Legendary senator Lee Metcalf clearly wanted the Gallatin and eight other Montana wildlands (the so-called “Metcalf areas”) to be managed as Wilderness unless and until Congress decided otherwise. Specifically, Molloy enjoined the Gallatin National Forest from implementing its new travel plan because it continued to allow motorized use in the WSA.

Just think. Thirty-two years later, Montana’s congressional delegation still has not resolved the “Metcalf areas.” Along the way, the FS has allowed, inch by inch–and illegally according to Molloy–uses such as motorized recreation that aren’t consistent with maintaining the wilderness quality of the areas.

This same controversial FS habit is, incidentally, the same reason Senator Tester has decided to release or 80 percent of the West Pioneers WSA (one of the Metcalf areas) in his bill. Here, as in the Gallatin Range, the FS has allowed, inappropriately if not illegally, motorized use when the agency should have been maintaining the wilderness character of the mountain range.

So, it seems like this court decision might be all the justification Tester needs to amend the bill and make the entire West Pioneers a Wilderness and boot out motorized users who shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Again, I asked Tester’s staff to comment on this question, but again, no response.

Question No. 7. Back on September 4, I devoted my column to the secrecy surrounding a poll conducted by the coalition of green groups and timber companies pushing Tester’s wilderness bill. I’d made several requests to have the exact wording of poll’s questions released before posting that column, but the coalition refused. Since then, after a pint of microbrew and a few more emails, Matt McKenna–who also works with former President Bill Clinton, now has his own communication firm in Bozeman called Jackson Creek and has been recently hired to speak for the coalition–decided to release the exact wording of the key question. This question-and-answer was the headliner in the poll, finding that 73 percent of Montanans supported Tester’s wilderness bill.

Here’s the exact wording of question. You make your own judgment as to whether it biases the results.

Q 7. Let me briefly describe the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which would do the following:

  • Create jobs in Montana by directing the Forest Service to use light-on-the-land logging and forest restoration projects aimed at improving forest health and reducing forest fire risk;
  • Employ forest stewardship contractors to restore Montana’s damaged streams, forest roads, campgrounds and trails;
  • Guarantee that motorized vehicles will have access to designated recreation areas;
  • Protect Montana’s wildlife habitats and watersheds by designating certain places as Wilderness areas in the Beaverhead Deer Lodge, Lolo and Kootenai National Forests.


Do you FAVOR or OPPOSE the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act that I just described?

Results: Favor–73 percent; Oppose–15 percent; no answer–12 percent.

Ominous gift to the military? Back on July 21, I posted a long article listing What Tester’s Forest Bill Really Does, but I missed one key point. In Section 19(h), S 1470 allows the “Secretary of Defense or the Montana National Guard to permit limited and scheduled landings of aircraft in the Highlands Wilderness Area” and permits “low-level overflights by military aircraft” in all areas designated as Wilderness in the bill.

Add the Front. On September 16, the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, which according to its website, includes “ranchers, outfitters, anglers, business folks, tribal members, and conservationists” proposed the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (RMFHA).

As currently drafted, the legislation adds 86,000 acres of new Wilderness to the existing Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas, creates what the coalition callis a 307,000-acre Conservation Management Area (CMA), and includes detailed plans for dealing with the noxious weed problem on the Front.

The CMA essentially codifies the status quo and the current travel plan for the Front. It prevents new roads and most resource development. It allows very limited motorized use, only “a few miles,” according to coalition spokesperson Jennifer Ferenstein, and mountain biking anywhere the travel plan currently allows it, which is almost all of the CMA. As always is the case, though, bicycles would be banned in the new Wilderness.

The RMFHA is what we now call a “place-based” collaborative effort, similar if not better, than the three local collaborations currently making up S. 1470, so Senator Tester, in keeping with the spirit of the time, how about adding the RMFHA to your bill?

I asked Ferenstien, who is currently coordinating a series of public listening sessions on the RMFHA, if the coalition was pushing Tester for inclusion in S. 1470, and she sort of dodged that question. “We’ve kept in regular communication with all three members of the delegation and their staff,” she said, “We’re working to get this proposal finalized and introduced as soon as possible without cutting corners or the public out of our citizen’s proposal.”

I say, why wait? It’s a perfect fit with everything Senator Tester is trying to do with S. 1470, so the time is right. Adding the RMFHA should broaden support for the beefed up bill.

UPDATE: Even though Senator Jon Tester officially announced his bill on July 17 and it was obviously being circulated weeks in advance of that date, Montana’s Senior Senator Max Baucus did not sign onto it until October 27, 13 days after this column was posted. You can draw your own conclusions on whether or not it was a coincidence……Bill Schneider

Footnote: To read our extensive coverage on Tester’s Wilderness bill, click here.

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  1. Historian Colonel Bain- Author - Monk

    Easy does it BILL…. coopperation is de key here.. much lies behind de scenes.. n washington an Montana.

  2. Max has Jon hid out in the forest of Western Montana. Notice how is presence has stirred up a multitude of issues.
    Jon isn’t quaified to be in that DC battle so maybe the woods is the best place for him. Bieden is most likey there also.

  3. Facinating that Question No. 7. Talk about wording to get a desired response…was the whole questionaire that slanted? Polls are worded very carefully to get desired responses all the time…it sounds like it is time for this one to be examined more closely.
    the Coalition to protect the rocky mountain front sounds very interesting.
    My dilema…there are so many different organizations…how does one know its true objectives? how does someone with limited time effectively get involved in a real conservation based organization when so many seem to have buried or alterior motives?

  4. a Bad bill period

  5. Concerning Judge Molloy’s HPBH WSA ruling – sadly the waters were needlessly muddied by the plaintiff’s zeal to ban motors that muscle-powered bicycles were lumped together with motorized users in the litigation and thrown under the proverbial bus.

    “Members of each of the plaintiff conservation groups use the Gallatin National Forest, including the areas that are subject to the challenged aspects of the Travel Plan, for recreational pursuits, including wildlife watching, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and aesthetic enjoyment. The motorized and mechanized transport activity sanctioned by the Travel Plan will deprive those members and individuals of the opportunity to enjoy quiet solitude and serenity in the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn WSA . The legal violations alleged in this complaint cause direct injury to the aesthetic, conservation, recreational, scientific, educational, and wildlife preservation interests of members of the plaintiff organizations.
    Plaintiffs’ aesthetic, conservation, recreational, scientific, educational, and wildlife preservation interests have been, are being, and, unless the relief prayed for herein is granted, will continue to be adversely and irreparably injured by defendants’ failure to comply with federal law .

    Mountain bikes, which did not exist in 1977, now abound in the WSA . Both summer and winter motorized and mechanized activities have therefore increased in both intensity and spatial distribution in the WSA over the levels existing in 1977, at the time Congress enacted the Montana Wilderness Study Act . These new activities scar landscapes with motor vehicle trails, disturb and displace wildlife, and introduce engine noise and pollution into otherwise pristine backcountry areas.

    Bummer… Reading between the lines – what is the message?

  6. Q7 would probably garner the same percentages if the Clinton Roadless Rule, or Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act were substituted for Tester’s Jobs and Recreation Act. The problem is not finding support for wilderness, it’s finding a Senator, like Lee Metcalf, to defend the public’s interest.

    The last statewide wilderness poll, conducted by Lee Newspapers in 1993 (I think), showed similar aggregate results, with twice the support for protecting all 6.4 million acres (NREPA) as the other (Williams or Burns-Baucus) options. On a percentage basis, no current bills come close to designating the acreage of any bills of the early 1990’s. None of the bills back then denigrated Metcalf’s S-393 legacy. Tester and/or the Front proposal represent a huge step backwards. What’s happening to wilderness is similar in many ways to Congress’s handling of the health care issue.

  7. Question 7?

    We could probably get 73 percent of Montanans to support damming the Yellowstone, strip mining the Beartooths and seceding from the union with such loaded and leading questions…

  8. Who’da thunk it?

    The conservation and Wilderness advocates are heralding the Conservation Management Area on the Rocky Mountain Front as a success! The sanctioned and highly touted CMA, a non-Wilderness Congressionally protected companion designation, does serve to protect a spectacular piece of roadless Montana.

    Unfortunately, the underlying travel plan sucks for continued bicycle access to important trails up there. The bright side is that another precedent has been set by embracing the CMA as a viable alternative to Wilderness in our quest to permanently protect our Montana landscapes. Is this the Wilderness Lite designation we have been waiting for?

    How about throwing a few CMAs into the B-D mix in the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Now we are talking!

  9. Wilderness Lite? Now there’s a new idea! (A little history from the 1970’s, anyone?) I wonder how many areas now with ‘permanent’ wilderness protection would then be opened up to a variety of impactful use? I’m sure there are many “important trails” that the bikers and ATVs and miners and military and cabin-owners would love to have opened up.

  10. Binky –

    So do you support the protection of the Rocky Mountain Front with the Conservation Management Area? Or is leaving it status-quo and unprotected a better solution?

  11. SNIPS from article:

    “I also asked Tester’s staff to comment on why Baucus hasn’t come on board, but no response.”

    “Again, I asked Tester’s staff to comment on this question, but again, no response.”

    It’s really no surprise that Wild Bill would repeatedly get “no response” from Tester’s staff to his honest questions. You see, this whole Tester bill is not part of an open, inclusive, transparent public process. It’s part of a dangerous trend in public lands management…something that has come to closely resemble a political campaign, or even a political take-over of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

    Even though we all might have some frustrations with public lands management as administered by the US Forest Service, there are at least public participation rules and regulations that must be followed and all Americans have an opportunity to participate fully and equally.

    In a political campaign that’s certainly not the case. See, in a political campaign you just stick to your talking points no matter what. You certainly don’t stray from your talking points or your message to answer questions or address concerns from people like Wild Bill. If people speak out with concerns or questions, label them “extremists.” In a political campaign you host dog-and-pony shows called “town hall meetings.” In a political campaign you hire political operatives, such as Matt McKenna who “has been recently hired to speak for the coalition.”

    In a political campaign, if people have concerns with the US Congress mandating logging on public lands at a time when lumber demand is at an all time low…ignore economic realities and talk about the need to “get people workin’ in the woods.”

    In a political campaign you have your friends in DC put together polls and the obviously biased “Question 7” in such a way that helps guarantee the result you’re looking for.

    In a political campaign, when people point out that there are easily 30,000 to 50,000 acres of logging, “thinning” and “fuel reduction” projects on national forests in Montana just sitting on the shelves waiting to be implemented (with no appeals or litigation to contend with)…ignore these facts and just state (as Sen Tester has numerous times) “lawsuits have stopped forest management cold” and throw in another “We need to get people workin’ in the woods” for good measure and maximum effect.

    When people point out that ten years of “stewardship contracting” timber sales on national forests in the northern Rockies have resulted in a lot of logging completed, but a backlog of promised restoration work that runs upwards of $100 million…ignore this economic and ecological reality and simply tell people “We can use money generated from timber sales to pay for restoration.”

    If people have concerns with Tester’s bill allowing military landings in Wilderness (for the first time ever)…ignore them and say “the old way of managing our forests isn’t working.”

    If natural resource policy experts worry that your bill violates NEPA (our nation’s bedrock environmental law)… ignore the policy experts and talk about “Montana solutions.” If the public is worried with Wilderness Study Areas, which were protected by Montanans and Sen. Lee Metcalf, losing protections under Tester’s “Montana solutions” just say that “not everyone is getting everything they want.”

    Again, all of this differs greatly from the open, inclusive, transparent public process that has been established to manage these federal public lands, which belong equally to all Americans. Ironically, these open, inclusive public processes were established during the 1970s and 1980s in response to public outrage over the incredible political influence that certain western politicians and certain resource extractive industries had over public lands management. Unfortunately, looks like things are coming back full circle again. We can do better.

  12. The term TRANSPARENT seems to confuse the politicians.
    For some it means invisable, unnoticed.
    For others it may mean Stealthy and able to hide among the the truth- kinda like Smoke and Mirrors and other lies.
    To refer to something Politically Transparent is a red flag for a SCAM!!!!!
    Poor Jon’s tenure will be limited.

  13. Matthew K. would have helicopter landings but no wilderness.

    The Highlands Crest (Table Mountain) Wilderness was evaluated and recommended by U S Forest Service through its multi-year forest planning process.

    The Forest Service allows occasional (3 times year) landings for rescue purposes only of national guard helicopter when survival training is underway.

    How does this compare to legacy of Montana’s Lee Metcalf?

    Senator Metcalf sponsored the Great Bear Wilderness Act which had an exception for Shaeffer Airstrip –556 landings a year.

    It would be great to have larger expanses of wilderness in West Pioneers but the wilderness is imbedded within 129,000-acre Recreation Area designed to allow mountain bike use on 200 miles of backcountry trails, mostly single track.

    You should appreciate this Bill as you often advocate for stronger collaboration between wilderness and mountain biking, (something we agree on).

  14. why should we appreciate a bill that breaks tester’s campaign promises?


    Dont applaud crooked, lying politicians for their lies and greed.

    Is the public that naieve that they would celebrate Tester’s broken promises and bs bill?

  15. Gatchell should read his own bill. The FS is not limited to permitting three landings a year, as he claims is currently the case and implies would be the case in the future — the bill as written could permit unlimited landings as agreed to by the FS with DOD or the MT National Guard.

    And the difference between Tester’s and the Great Bear bill? Recreational air stips were recognized in the original ’64 Act as an allowable “special provision.” Military landings — despite several attempts by DOD agencies — never have been (contrary to what Gatchell has been saying in public).

    Of course, military landings are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ground-breaking weakening of wilderness in the Tester bill. Livestock operators in the Snowcrest Wilderness would be able to herd their sheep using ATVs — something that has been denied in every other wilderness area, despite ranchers’ assertions that using horses is a romantic myth that the Wilderness Act has no right to force upon them.

    Then there’s the wording that seems to give the State managment authority over recreational target shooting in all the wildernesses in this bill!

    Of course, that’s not even getting into what so many others have brought up — the areas dropped from wilderness consideration.

    A lot of these problems might have avoided if those crafting the bill had asked for the input of some people who actually know something about wilderness. But, as has also been repeatedly pointed out, this was a behind-the-scenes, closed-door deal.

  16. and now that sen. tester’s big wilderness giveaway dog and pony show are scheduled for this coming monday night here in missoula i will be sure and be there to waste two hours so i can listen to all the plans solidified in secret meetings. i am sure jon’s staff will be chomping at the bit for me to give my much-sought-after public input to the process, because we all know our input is valuable to the outcome of this bill……

  17. Baucus signed on. Upsetting some because they were supposed to be consulted first. or be happy first

  18. Two huge misconceptions that I continue to hear being repeated by those opposed to this bill:

    1) That this was some kind of “closed door, behind the scenes” deal.

    No, it wasn’t. There were literally hundreds of public meetings that happened during the formulation of this bill. Certain parties may have felt left out of the process for various reasons, but that isn’t the same as portraying the process as having happened in “secret.” It didn’t. And for those who felt left out, I’d ask you first to honestly examine your own position on the issue – your own ability to be flexible, your ability to come to the table and to work toward compromise with people from a variety of backgrounds and agendas. If you were only coming at this issue from a pre-determined, fixed position, then yes, the key parties involved probably didn’t want to work with you. Are you really that surprised?

    2) That the only wilderness this bill protects is a bunch of “rock and ice.”

    The only conclusion I can come to from those who continue to regurgitate this talking point is that you have never spent much time in the area and are not speaking from a point of personal experience, but from what you’ve read and heard from others. There are huge areas that would be protected by this bill that by no stretch of the imagination could be portrayed as simply “rock and ice,” including critical headwaters of some of the most famous trout rivers in Montana, if not N. America, prime elk and deer habitat, etc. This is simply another hyperbolic falsehood, and exactly the kind of rhetoric that gets people excluded from the table where solutions are reached.

    it’s simple – keep using exaggerated falsehoods to make your case, and continue to be sidelined.

  19. “Smithhammer”: Regarding your point number 1.

    Back in the winter of 2005/2006, as most all of Montana’s conservation groups were working together to protect all our remaining inventoried roadless lands in the state (nearly 6 million acres in total), unknown to any of us, a self-selected, exclusive subset of conservation groups (Specially, the Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies Natural Resource Center and Montana Trout Unlimited) began meeting in secret with the timber industry to craft a management plan for the entire Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest.

    We have even heard from sources from within these organization’s that a confidentially agreement was signed between these 3 groups and the timber industry. Can you imagine it? A “confidentially agreement” signed between self-selected groups and the timber industry to dictate public lands management? Is this really the direction we want public lands management to take?

    Heck, not even Montana Wilderness Association board members knew about these secret meetings and what was being hatched in private with the timber industry…and only the timber industry. Haven’t you checked Wild Bill’s bibliography on this subject? http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/montanas_wilderness_drought_a_chronology/C41/L41/

    Also, yesterday a former Montana Wilderness Association board member who ended up resigning from MWA’s Board shortly after the Beaverhead Partnership was announced had an oped in the Great Falls Tribune, available at: http://cleangreensustainable.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/243

    Amazingly, even though this board member was the chair of MWA’s Wilderness Committee, he and other Board members were kept completely in the dark about MWA’s secret, closed-door negotiations with the timber industry, the results of which now makes up the bulk of Tester’s Logging Bill.

    You should also know that most conservation groups in Montana, and around the country, who were not part of the MWA’s, NWF’s and MT TU’s secret meetings felt betrayed, sucker punched and used. Can you imagine? At a time when we were all working together so well to protect all of Montana’s remaining inventoried roadless lands (and when that goal was certainly in sight) three groups peeled off and met in secret with the timber industry to carve up roadless lands, mandate logging and violate NEPA? The outrage was pretty universal. In fact, most people don’t realize that Montana Wilderness Association was immediately forced to return nearly $80,000 that it was given as fiscal sponsor to assist our Montana Roadless Working Group’s education efforts the public during Bush’s state-by-state roadless petition process.

    Unfortunately, MWA, NWF and MT TU has completed ignored all of the concerns expressed over the past 3 years from the vast majority of conservation organizations in the movement and have just pushed ahead with Senator Tester and his staffers (some of whom have a direct conflict of interest based on their past relationships with these groups and their leadership) with their no-holds-barred, leave-no-talking-point-behind PR campaign supporting Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.”

    Sure, it is true, as my anonymous friend “Smithhammer” says, that “meetings” and “town halls” were held after these secret, closed door negotiations. After all, they had to fire up the PR campaign to sell the Beaverhead Partnership’s proposal and give Tester’s office the “ground swell of public support” they claim to have for this mandated logging bill. But make no mistake, these are public lands that belong equally to all Americans, and these dog-and-pony shows are not a replacement for an open, inclusive and transparent public process. Thanks.

  20. Thank you Matthew. I’m already pretty familiar with your protracted thoughts on the issue. And, by the way, I’m not anonymous.

  21. “Smithhammer”: If you refuse to use your real name…which it appears you refuse to do…you are, in fact, anonymous by any standard definition. I’d hope that public policy regarding public lands could be debated in a public forum without some people having to resort to playing childish games involving anonymity. Thanks.

  22. Dearest Matthew –

    Apparently you don’t remember the last time you tried to take me to task for this? As I said then, I’m not hiding behind anything – my real, honest-to-dog last name is Smithhammer.

    And now that you have that extremely useful nugget of information why don’t you spare us the pedantic lectures and stern, finger-wagging about “childish games” and do something useful with your afternoon instead? I’m sure there must be an open-mike night at a cafe somewhere in Missoula that you need to prep for.


    – Smithhammer

  23. However, given how important this seems to be to you, I’m sure you’re furiously Googling right now….