Thursday, April 30, 2009

The word on wilderness

Posted on Thu, Apr 30, 2009 at 5:41 PM

I'd like to respond to Daphne Herling, president of the Montana Wilderness Association (see "Letters," Feb. 12, 2009). In the 40-plus years I've walked or skied on miles of wilderness and backcountry trails, I don't ever recall a nearby owl telling me, "Gee, Steve, wouldn't these places all be better, wouldn't we all be happier if we could just open them up a little to loggers, miners, ATV riders, snowmobilers and more federal agency roads? I mean, weren't we too greedy when we gave these areas protective designations? Shouldn't we embrace the 'now-popular' quid pro quo approach and share our great places with those of disparate interests?"

Nope, never one deep hoot of that kind. Owls and I both know their habitat security and the Wilderness Act will be toast if we bend the fiber supporting the act. There are already precious few places protected from roads and the whine of greedy engines.

A few things come to mind here, Daphne. MWA has not been authorized by anyone to cut backroom deals with the U.S. Forest Service, loggers or the off-road vehicle community on public lands. These lands are owned by all Americans, not MWA. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge deal left the public out of it. No public involvement, no NEPA. Janine Blaeloch and Katie Fite wrote, "These deals create a quid pro quo situation wherein wilderness protection is essentially 'paid for' with balancing provisions in the same piece of legislation that facilitate development, privatization and intensified land use—even in the very 'wilderness' set aside in the deals. If this trend continues, the days of the stand-alone wilderness bill, along with the strict observance of the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act, may become relics of the past."

As U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., so astutely said, "Wilderness designations should not be the result of a quid pro quo. They should rise or fall on their own merits. We all understand that compromise is part of the legislative process, yet at the same time, I would submit that wilderness is not for sale. Simply put, I believe we should not seek the lowest common denominator when it comes to wilderness and saddle a wilderness designation with exceptions, exclusions and exemptions."

MWA needs to stop backroom dealing with public lands and get serious about a real wilderness bill. It's been more than 20 years since MWA hit pay dirt the old-fashioned way, without holding hands and singing "Kumbayah." The Wilderness Act was not designed as a way to provide jobs for road builders, loggers and miners, or playgrounds for ATV riders and snowmobilers. Quid pro quo wilderness rewards this traditional power base by forcing wilderness to tag along with various development schemes and it's loser-out for the public. Don't trade away our lands to feather MWA's very spare nest.

Steve Gilbert


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