A recent call for public comment on the Fish Creek State Park Draft Management Plan has reinvigorated the debate between those who see economic opportunity in the development of public lands and those who believe that development of any kind spoils the very land we would seek to enjoy (see "Fight over Fish Creek," Jan. 29).
Outspoken factions on both sides of the discussion take a very "all or nothing" approach and that is just not realistic. Montanans know how to enjoy public lands without spoiling them, and create economic success along the way. We've been doing it for as long as people have traveled to our state to enjoy the spectacular, unspoiled nature here!
Fish Creek State Park presents a unique opportunity to create a regional destination in Mineral County, an especially hard-hit area of the state following the decline of the timber industry. It is irresponsible to see communities in our state struggling economically when they have such a valuable commodity that so many of our visitors are willing to pay top dollar to enjoy.
Now, I don't think anyone on the pro-development side envisions steering millions of our non-resident visitors to Fish Creek every year and trampling the pristine landscape there. Just 11,000 total visitors over the course of an entire year could infuse as much as $4 million to $9 million into Mineral County's economy. That's good news for the hoteliers, outfitters and guides and other small businesses in the area that see much of their prospective business pass them by on the way to Missoula or Yellowstone or Glacier.
It's important to put the number "11,000" into perspective. That's less than one-10th of a percent of the total number of non-resident visitors to our state in 2013. It's less than half the average number of visitors to the 11 state parks in Region 2 in 2012. And it's a little more than twice the number of visitors that visited Fish Creek State Park alone in 2012, which in that year were almost exclusively Montanans.
The great thing about Fish Creek is that it has all the components of a year-round destination that would allow for an even distribution of increased visitation. Anglers would flock to the area from spring through fall; summer brings hikers, campers, rafters and wildlife watchers; and winter brings hunters and snowmobilers. But we've got to develop the amenities and infrastructure, especially the campgrounds and trail system, to support these activities while protecting the land and the nearby watershed.
So that brings the discussion to the next challenge. How do we pay for it? Using state taxpayer dollars exclusively to fund the procurement and operations and maintenance of public lands with little or no public support to make them economically viable is unrealistic and irresponsible. We have to find more creative ways that responsibly fund public lands while sharing the financial load with other public and private entities.
Public and private partnerships with concessionaires, construction developers and management firms are the key to the long-term conservation of our public lands and their economic viability. It allows the state to retain its authority for the stewardship of a place like Fish Creek while allowing local businesses and entrepreneurs to have some skin in the game as they pursue profitability.
Wouldn't a local business dependent on the land's preservation be its most ardent conservationist and protector? I'm sure the answer from the outfitters and guides that already operate along the Clark Fork would be an emphatic, "Yes!"
But there is a role for our federal government to play and one it has not done well in recent decades. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is America's premier conservation program. Created in 1965, the LWCF is funded exclusively by a small percentage of offshore oil and gas revenues (not taxpayer dollars) up to $900 million annually. Yet nearly every year, the majority of LWCF funds are diverted to other unintended purposes. The impact of LWCF on Montana cannot be overstated. Nearly 70 percent of our state's fishing access sites were created with LWCF.
Yet, less than $3 million dollars from the LWCF has been spent on conservation efforts in western Montana over the last decade and no LWCF funds have been spent in Mineral County since 1990. The primary reason: The LWCF is underfunded at the national level, which means ever decreasing amounts are available for all 50 states to share.
If we are to seriously manage the conservation (and continued expansion) of our existing state parks, fishing access sites, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas we have got to engage our federal legislators on this subject and urge them to support fully funding the LWCF. The LWCF would provide a viable source of funding for the conservation of our public lands allowing state funds to be better used in their management and development.
Voices of Montana Tourism
Regarding the recent opinion piece by Howie Wolke (see “Slippery slope, Feb. 13), Mr. Wolke may have expertise in hiking and outfitting but his statements illustrate that he knows nothing about mountain biking. He cannot decide whether we mountain bikers are actually road bikers (“Lycra-clad speedsters”) or downhill racers (“Let’s face it: Mountain bikers need all that protective gear because they’re not always in control.”) In fact, we are neither. We are simply outdoor adventurers who enjoy traveling at a bit faster pace than most hikers.
I’m no expert cyclist, but I ride my mountain bike about 2,000 miles a year, mostly on singletrack trails at an aggressive pace, and I cannot remember the last time I rode off the trail or crashed (“Bikers often veer off-trail just to keep from crashing.”). Mr. Wolke should stick to writing about subjects in which he has some knowledge.
As one of the planners and participants in both of the January megaload protests mentioned in your recent article (see “Leading by example,” Jan. 30), I feel that it is important that I fill in just a couple of key pieces of information about our protest actions that were left out of the article.
I should begin by thanking the Independent for covering the events at all. The members of Indian People’s Action who made up the bulk of both the organizing committee and the actual participants in these events, along with our allies from Blue Skies Campaign, and the Idaho, Spokane and Northern Rockies chapters of Rising Tide, sent out a detailed press release to all local media outlets before each event, explaining what we were going to do and why. Although two Missoula TV stations covered the first protest on Jan. 22, the Independent was the only media outlet represented at the much larger and more successful protest on Jan. 24. But who can tell what was accomplished at the second protest from reading this article, except that three dear elder women allies of ours were cited or arrested that time, rather than just one? That is why I must fill in the major gaps.
As stated in the press release, it was our intention to enter Reserve Street together in front of the megaloads and halt the movement of this tar sands-bound equipment however long we could by leading ourselves and our non-Indian allies in a traditional round dance, which is a form of prayer and a symbol of unity, in the middle of the street. We aimed to do this while carrying our signs in opposition to the tar sands and the megaloads and for the development of non-fossil fuel alternative energy sources. We were also acting on behalf of our indigenous brothers and sisters in the First Nations communities in Alberta who have been affected most directly and severely from the contamination of their water, air and wild natural food sources, although we also expressed that all life on Earth is being deeply affected and endangered by this filthy and completely unnecessary business. We say “unnecessary” because if just one-fifth of the amount of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas) presently harvested and already on reserve were used, it would make the atmosphere unsustainable and unsalvageable by as early as possibly 10 to 15 years from now.
Our leaders in Indian People’s Action decided in advance of the protest action that our group would not get arrested, but instead would very slowly obey the police order to disperse after the round dance. We decided that because we knew that we were trying to organize and mobilize many people from Native tribal communities all over Montana who had never engaged in massive, non-violent resistance actions before, and as anybody who is familiar with such activism knows, it takes both training and experience to engage non-violently with people who approach you attempting to stop your actions with force. It is not something that people just do naturally.
As your article stated, we had about 40-plus people in the Tuesday night action. But rather than saying “many from the Indian People’s Action group,” it would have been more accurate to say “most.” We made up about 30 of the 40 in attendance. Indians made up about 60 of the near 70 people who participated on Thursday night, but your article does not mention anybody being there at all except our dear and much appreciated three elder women allies. You mention nothing about our round dance and holding up the megaload for 12 minutes, followed by a short speech from one of our Anishinabe members, Charles Walking Child, which held up the load for another few minutes.
During this whole experience—from the planning that began during the first week of December, through the long wait for the loads to arrive, and then during the actions themselves—many, mostly young, Native American people learned much about the issues facing our planet and became first-time public activists for the Earth. They will be back, again and again, in greater and greater numbers, as long as all life on Earth cries out against this most grave injustice, corruption and destruction. That was our primary success in these actions, along with educating the public through what actually did get covered by the media and what the bystanders read on our signs and in our leaflets that we handed out. We look forward to seeing you out in the streets again for as long as this struggle continues.
Indian People’s Action
I must confess I did not think of the Missoula Independent as much of a serious news organization. The investigation into corruption in Lake County and the fact that it was traced to Steve Bullock’s office as attorney general has changed my mind.
I hope the Independent will continue to follow the corruption in Lake County and all the way up to the now governor. The fact that the Independent had to pay its own legal fees to uncover this story should be given more coverage than just the “etc.” section of the paper (see Jan. 2 issue). The public’s right to know what “our” government is doing and having real journalists looking into the government is essential to freedom and our way of life.
I voted for Steve Bullock. However, it looks like he is punishing good public employees for doing their jobs, then covering it up. Anyone who wants to investigate these actions has to have lot of money for a lawsuit. The public needs to know about this kind of behavior from our elected officials. If the Independent will continue to follow this story and others like it, I will continue to take them seriously.
The humble sage grouse has earned a new moniker in Montana and other western states: the spotted owl of the prairie. That description started as a joke, but for the tens of thousands of Montanans who earn their living in agriculture or energy development it’s no longer a laughing matter. That’s because there’s a very real threat this bird could be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The result would dramatically impact Montana’s economy.
It’s worth noting that sage grouse—these birds in desperate need of federal protection—are game birds in Montana and other western states. You can shoot them. And there are no plans to restrict their hunting if they are listed under the ESA.
It’s no coincidence that sage grouse habitat also happens to intersect both the largest untapped coal deposits in the country as well as large parts of the Bakken oil field. It’s clear the primary motivation to focus on sage grouse for ESA listing is to provide yet another tool for special interest groups to block energy development. And in this obstructionist toolbox, there’s no heavier sledgehammer than the ESA.
What an interesting irony, then, that so much effort is going into “protecting” one bird from energy development, when the Obama administration is turning a blind eye to hundreds of thousands of other birds being killed by wind energy turbines each year, including protected birds like bald eagles.
Recent research puts the annual butcher’s bill by wind farms at 573,000 birds. Included in that number are 83,000 hunting birds, like eagles and hawks.
Most bird deaths are violations of the ESA, the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or other protective acts. Indeed, there are examples of the Obama administration prosecuting power companies for birds killed by power lines and oil companies for birds that drown in waste pits. But to date, not a single wind energy company has been prosecuted for bird deaths.
It’s not true to say the feds are doing absolutely nothing to enforce these laws—in one example a wind company was ordered to employ “spotters” to watch for eagles and shut down turbines when they get too close. How’s that for government efficiency?
It’s a dirty little secret, but the Obama administration has been granting renewable energy companies “take” permits that allows them to kill bald eagles with impunity for up to five years. On Dec. 6, the Interior Department announced they were extending the length of those permits for up to 30 years.
It would seem that not all birds are created equal, at least for the Obama administration and their environmental allies. Wind energy has a literal “free pass” to kill bald eagles, but traditional energy development could get shut down in eastern Montana because of the potential that it could disturb sage grouse habitat.
Let’s be honest about what’s driving this process—a political agenda that cares much more about putting shackles on energy development than it does about protecting birds. The duplicity shown by the Obama administration in applying the law underscores the point that the ESA is more about politics than it is protecting and restoring endangered animals. Though enacted with noble aims, over the years the ESA has been corrupted, used arbitrarily to reward rent-seekers and punish political foes, and been used with devastating effect to destroy jobs and economic opportunity.
Several Montana industries now find themselves with an ESA target on their back in the form of the sage grouse. Montana officials are scrambling to craft a sage grouse management plan that satisfies the feds and prevents ESA listing. But regardless of the management plan they enact, a heavy blow will be dealt to energy development in our state. In other words, even without an outright ESA listing, the act is still being used to force states into arbitrarily limiting development.
The way the ESA, and other wildlife protection laws, have been selectively applied is shameful. It’s time the ESA is restored to its original purpose—restoration of wildlife populations that need our help. And it’s time that federal officials start applying those protection laws evenly among all industries.
State Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer
Montana also offers its own subsidy, an 18-month oil and gas tax holiday for new wells. Industry pays no taxes when wells are most productive, and communities like Sidney are straining under infrastructure, education, law enforcement and other demands during the boom. Sen. Christine Kaufman, D-Helena, introduced SB 295, which would have removed the tax holiday, and directed the roughly $35 million annually to community oil and gas impact relief and a renewable resources trust fund. Republicans killed it in committee. Instead, they passed SB 396, diverting U.S. mineral royalties from federal lands to an oil and gas impact fund, reducing our general revenue fund by $10 million annually.
Add to this the portending legacy of abandoned wells. In fossil fuel friendly Wyoming, companies are writing off low reclamation bonds, leaving the state to pick up the tab, estimated at $30,000 per well. Ridiculously, Montana’s bonds are even lower with less incentive to reclaim wells. If you like Montana’s dubious distinction as home to the Berkeley Pit, our nation’s largest superfund site, you’ll love it when taxpayers pick up the tab for cleaning our groundwater, without benefit of the tourist attraction.
I would like to share what I have experienced living in close proximity to a prolific feral cat population (see “Meow mess,” Jan. 30). I learned the hard way that one person’s good intentions can lead to a whole host of unwanted problems for an entire neighborhood.
Four years ago I moved to the outskirts of Missoula and realized my neighbor was feeding feral cats. At any time, I could look out the windows of my house and view dozens of cats waiting to be fed from her porch—she even provided birthing boxes. I got a whiff of what I was up against when spring arrived, the ground thawed and the stench of cat feces and urine began emanating from around the house like a witches’ brew gone bad. That year I watched as every flower pot and garden bed in my yard became a litter box. As a consequence, every dog within barking distance, when turned loose, would gather around my property to howl and growl at the ferals lurking under porches and vehicles. Just as troubling, I observed many litters of kittens born in the birthing boxes being released into the feral population.
From other neighbors I learned this was a long-standing colony that had plagued the neighborhood for years. A few conscientious people were already implementing TNR, or trap, neuter and release. So I got educated and learned to use a live trap. It took years, but with patience and persistence we prevailed. I am pleased to report the ferals that remain are spayed and neutered and the cat population has stabilized.
Even more encouraging, the balance of nature has returned to our neighborhood. We now have a diversity of birds at our feeders. I recently saw a squirrel in the yard; the first one I have seen since moving in to the neighborhood. I no longer buy 50-pound sacks of lime for odor control, or cover my garden with rolls of plastic netting to keep the soil clean for planting vegetables. I sleep through the night without being awakened by cats mating and fighting. And the poisoning of cats seems to have stopped. It is a better neighborhood now.
I am very grateful to Missoula’s Animal Control for providing a humane place to take feral cats. No one wants to harm or euthanize a healthy cat. TNR is not a perfect solution, but it is currently the most humane option we have. But, there is no doubt, we need more tools county-wide to limit the size and scope of cat colonies.
And to the people who feed and maintain these colonies of cats: moderation would go along way in preventing problems from occurring. Be courteous to your neighbors and kind to the cats by spaying and neutering them. And please don’t take on more cats than you are allowed by law or property management.
Missoula needs a Starbucks? Paid in part with taxpayer money from “property tax assessments”? Missoula doesn’t have enough great coffee kiosks? What happened to supporting local businesses? (See “New Starbucks on deck, Jan. 23.)
This in a effort to “eradicate urban blight” in the city council-designated urban renewal district in the vicinity of Ruby’s Café and Taco del Sol, described by MRA Director Ellen Buchanan as a “big gray blob” in the middle of Missoula, as seen from the “M.” Perhaps if Buchanan looked closer (actually walked around blighted district III), she’d see there are already two very good local coffee bars amidst the blight: Florence Coffee and Liquid Planet (from which I have enjoyed buying and drinking many a great coffee over the years). Is the mission of the MRA and the city council to drive out local business? Shouldn’t that money go to supporting small business, rather than a chain or franchise?
As we move into 2014, we the people have some critical challenges. The success of our efforts will depend on total commitment from every element of our society, not just the “radical right” or the “radical left.” We can’t be complaisant, and allow ourselves to be governed by wealthy corporations. Every one of us needs to be fairly represented.
Here are some major matters that require our attention:
The middle class continues to decline with median family income some $5,000 less than it was in 1999. More Americans, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history.
Real unemployment is not 7 percent. If one includes those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time, real unemployment is 13.2 percent.
Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.
Meanwhile, as tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Walmart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
The scientific community has been very clear: Global warming is real. It is already causing massive problems and, if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable.
Let’s vow to work together this year, and really make things better.