The Buffalo Field Campaign has strongly opposed Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park’s (FWP) bison quarantine experiment at every step, knowing that bison have never transmitted brucellosis to livestock and that quarantine destroys the wild qualities that make these bison so unique. FWP ignored public input and proceeded anyway, falsely promising that after five years the survivors would be given happy homes on public and tribal lands. Five years later, with the FWP lease of the current quarantine pens due to expire, we learned that the agency, in fact, had no plan.
Breaking trust with tribes, the public and the bison, FWP denied tribal proposals and refused to consider the thousands of public acres available in Montana. In a last-minute, back-room deal, Gov. Brian Schweitzer appealed to Ted Turner for a bailout (see “Helping the herd,” Feb. 25, 2010). Turner agreed to house the quarantined bison on his ranch in exchange for 75 percent of the Yellowstone calves born there. The deal sets the dangerous precedents of turning public wildlife into currency and transferring ownership of a cherished public resource to a private, for-profit corporation.
The 88 formerly wild Yellowstone bison that now find themselves captive behind Turner’s fences were stolen from all of us. As long as they reside on Turner’s ranch they are off-limits to the public.
But not everyone comes out on the short end of this deal. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), an organization with close ties to Turner (he is listed as a board member on their most recent tax return) has been busy heaping praise on the deal. Perhaps GYC, who last year charged $1500 for exclusive tours of Turner’s ranch, will be one of the greatest beneficiaries.
FWP now promises that after five more years, any surviving Yellowstone bison in Turner’s possession, along with the few offspring remaining after Turner takes his share, will be returned to the public. Given their track record, why should we believe them?
Buffalo Field Campaign
I appreciate the passionate comments regarding Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act written by Marilyn Olsen and others in recent pages of the Independent (see “Tester taken to task,” Feb. 11, 2010). I too love Montana’s wild places and recognize their ecological and cultural significance. That’s true of most Missoulians. What is also true is that Tester’s bill is the product of an open public process with promise to restore inclusive deliberation and adaptability to natural resource decision-making in the West.
All three of the projects in Tester’s bill had websites up for everyone to view for more than a year before the senator introduced his bill last July. I personally helped organize one of many public meetings on the Blackfoot Clearwater project at the Missoula Public Library last May that was attended by over 120 people.
Tester’s bill designates over 670,000 acres of new wilderness in 25 new areas. These areas range from the low country of Roderick Mountain in northwest Montana to the high country of the Lima Peaks in southwest Montana. The bill would include no less than six areas in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness and five additions to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area.
The bill calls for 7,000 acres to be treated in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest annually for 10 years. The bill gives local contractors agency to conduct fuels reduction and thinning in the wildland-urban interface, where the Forest Service has identified an immediate need to mitigate severe fire risk to homes and communities. In a forest where1.6 million acres are marked “suitable” for timber harvest, treating just 4 percent of the available land is a remarkably moderate goal.
That this bill has generated such fervent public dialogue illustrates how much people care about public land. I hope this bill sets a precedent for more place-based, collaborative land management decisions to come.
I’ve noticed an even higher than usual level of traffic on Sen. Jon Tester’s forest bill lately. I find it encouraging because this type of dialogue is a necessary part of any collaborative process, and it’s a good sign that we have a bill that’s well worth talking about.
Yet, I can’t help but notice a stark contrast between those who stand in opposition to this bill and those who support it. The critics are taking it more personally, but I suppose those at the radical end of any compromise often feel wronged. Folks in the middle though, understand that it is unreasonable to expect this bill to have only wilderness provisions in it, just as it is unreasonable to expect the bill to have only timber provisions in it. They’re willing to acknowledge imperfection and move forward.
They are backing Tester because he’s interested in getting past the division that defines our dialogue over public land management. That’s why Tester is maintaining an open process. This bill is still being amended and rewritten by Tester and by the subcommittee in Congress, and Tester is still open for further suggestions.
This bill is the product of conversations between people who were traditional enemies: loggers, off-road vehicle users and wilderness advocates. They’ve seen that arguing with one another and alienating one another was not working. They were ready to try a different approach.
I’d encourage those in the opposition to follow their example by taking part in the process productively, rather than complaining from the sidelines.
It is time for everyone interested in outdoor recreation and productive natural resource management to get behind Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. We have been in a 35 year management stalemate since the RARE I and II (Roadless Area Review and Evaluation) studies of the early 1970s. The RARE studies set out all of the areas the U.S. Forest Service recommended for wilderness classification. Since then, those areas plus many others, including large buffer zones, have been managed to protect wilderness qualities. Any attempts at resource extraction have been met with expensive litigation.
A number of proposals have been worked on by thousands of us in the ensuing years. One of the most similar was the Lolo/Kootenai Accords in the early 1980s. A large group representing all interests, from miners and loggers to strong wilderness advocates, got together to produce a seemingly impossible document that would delineate all wilderness and general forest zones on the Kootenai and Lolo National forests. Despite original doubts, the task was accomplished after hundreds of hours of meetings. The only reason for failure was a new senator who didn’t want more wilderness and was out to make a point. He didn’t consider that at least 50 percent of the effort was put forth by his supporters. If that bill had passed, there would no doubt be more lumber mills still in business, operating under sustained yield forest management practices.
I have been an avid outdoorsman and hunter for over 55 years, starting work with the Forest Service as an assistant packer in 1964. I worked for a commercial outfitter, as well as having my own small outfitting business for a few years. Elk hunting and horse pack trips into non-motorized areas are my most cherished experiences as a Montanan. I understand how difficult it is to balance all opinions where public lands are concerned, and how important these lands are to private businesses in Montana.
Tester’s bill respects private business and puts job creation out front as a primary goal, along with setting aside those lands that deserve protection for diverse recreational uses. Fortunately, Tester understands both sides and does not consider them mutually exclusive.
We should all applaud the effort Tester and hundreds of citizens have put forth to create this bill. I would also like to commend Sen. Max Baucus for his support and Rep. Denny Rehberg for his efforts to understand the public’s concerns. Bipartisan collaboration and support for this bill is what Montanans expect and deserve.
It is time to end the stalemate and pass legislation for a more productive and certain future.