Thursday, October 1, 2009

The next chapter

Posted on Thu, Oct 1, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Alex Sakariassen’s September 17 article on Roderick Nash (see “Montana’s place in ‘Big W’”) offers an excellent jumping-off point for a closer look at Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, a bill that has been discussed extensively in the Independent and elsewhere. 

From the get-go, Montana has been ahead of the curve on the wilderness debate. It’s no news to most readers that Montana’s wild lands were the inspiration for some of our nation’s most visionary wilderness philosophers and advocates, and that several of the first wilderness areas designated along with the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act fell within our borders. In following the story of Bob Marshall and other Wilderness heroes in his 1967 book, Wilderness and the American Mind, Nash would agree that Montana played a leading role in helping to shape our nation’s evolving perceptions of wild landscapes.

Five years after Nash’s seminal publication, Montana again took the helm of wilderness policy and guided it in another direction by creating the “first citizen’s wilderness”—the Scapegoat—which marked the first time that Congress chose to act on a wilderness recommendation not made by the Forest Service. Since 1972, the example set by residents of Lincoln and surrounding communities has been replicated countless times and in all corners of the United State, further contributing to the growth of wilderness in America.

Today, Montana is poised to push the envelope and rechart the course of federal land management once more—we are literally writing the next chapter of Roderick Nash’s book. The pages have been years in the making—they have endured edits from all sides of the political and economic equation, have suffered from rips and tears, and have gone through multiple drafts. At last, a collection of authors—fed up with years of bickering, inaction and failed attempts at communication—have come together to finish the installment.

Building upon Montana’s traditions of independence and cooperation, the authors—timber companies like Pyramid Mountain, representatives of motorized and passive recreation interests, conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited and the Montana Wilderness Association, watershed organizations like the Blackfoot Challenge, and others—broke the long stalemate and decided the status quo was not good enough. What the authors have devised is the new paradigm of public lands legislation: place-based, collaborative proposals that reflect the needs of a range of stakeholders who are willing to come to the table, work together, and produce results.

What the authors of this next chapter in Nash’s saga understand is that the gridlock that has characterized public lands management needs to change.

Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act represents an opportunity on the scale of the designation of the Scapegoat in 1972—a chance to make wilderness designation a local affair, and one that benefits the full range of people who call Montana home. It is the basis for a new chapter on the role of wilderness in the American mind.

Zach Porter Missoula
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