Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy anniversary

Posted on Wed, Sep 16, 2009 at 5:38 PM

On Thursday, Sept. 3, the Independent published an article on the first wilderness bill to be introduced in Montana in 15 years (see “War of words”). The article focused on allowances for military training and motorized use for sheep grazing in two proposed areas. What the article failed to mention is that September 3 was the 45th anniversary of the day that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law.

When that extraordinary piece of legislation arrived on President Johnson’s desk, it had already been through an 8-year legislative process that produced 66 drafts of the original bill. The first sponsor of the Wilderness Act in the Senate was Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat from Minnesota. The man who finally carried the bill through the House was Pennsylvania Republican John Saylor. After many compromises on all sides, a final version of the bill passed the House 374–1 and was eventually approved by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate. All told, more than a decade of collaboration between diverse interests was required to pass the original Wilderness Act.

While this part of the wilderness story is rarely told, Montanans have not forgotten that it takes years of cooperation and creativity to make our forests work for everyone. Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act represents years of grassroots organizing and countless kitchen table conversations. It puts all the pieces together: harvesting timber at sustainable levels and funding habitat restoration through timber sales, while conserving wild country for our children and grandchildren. For these reasons, the forest bill is supported by statewide and national wilderness groups, Montana timber mills and local snowmobile clubs right here in Missoula County. In fact, new polling shows that 70 percent of Montanans are backing the bill.

This kind of broad support is hard to conjure, but the Wilderness Act had it 45 years ago and Tester’s forest bill has it today.   Gabriel Furshong, Missoula

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