Doug Ferrell Commentary: “Wilderness Protection”

I want to talk a little bit today about some encouraging progress and momentum in protecting some of Montana’s precious wild country.
Actually what is especially encouraging goes way beyond how we manage wild country. It includes important progress on how we Montanans can work together on controversial issues and find ways to solve problems together.
At a time when our country is polarized and divided on so many issues, and when our congress is having great difficulty finding common ground and getting its basic work done, it is encouraging to realize that we do have the ability to tackle and solve tough problems.
So what has been happening, and how has it been done?
Right now, two pieces of legislation before congress represent important agreements made by diverse groups of Montanans, many of whom have been historical opponents on land use issues. The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, introduced by Senator Max Baucus, and the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act introduced by Senator Jon Tester were both created by large, inclusive groups. These groups worked to find common ground and craft visionary agreements about better ways to manage some special areas of our public lands. Polls show both bills are supported by over 70% of Montanans, with support crossing party lines and geographical boundaries.
There are a couple of key reasons why these two efforts have been so successful so far. One is that they started with modest goals. In the case of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, ranchers, landowners, sportsmen and conservationists all agreed on a general goal of keeping this marvelous area pretty much the way it is today. The present mix of land uses supports world class wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, and traditional ranching and outfitting industries. The agreement generally protects these existing land uses into the future. In the case of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which covers mostly forest land, the goal was to provide for active forest management and timber harvesting, permanent designations for motorized recreation, and wilderness protection for some of Montana’s premier wild country. These goals are modest and reasonable, and they represent a step forward from the gridlock and conflict over public land management that we have experienced for too long.
The second reason for our success is that the diverse groups committed to understanding and respecting each other’s values and goals, and then committed to actively support each other’s goals, whenever they were not in conflict with ours. Yes, we found we had a lot more in common than we thought, and we found some really great opportunities to support each other and get things done. What a great experience this has been. Along the way we have gotten a chance to meet some damn fine people.
As a wilderness advocate, I am thrilled that we now have a good chance to protect some of our remaining, magnificent wild country, in places like the Sapphires, the West Big Hole, the Snowcrest, and the Pioneer Mountains, plus additions to the Scapegoat, the Mission Mountains, and the great Bob Marshall Wilderness. These are treasured places that we hope to protect for future generations to use and enjoy in their present wild and natural condition. Now, we just hope we can get these bills through congress. Let’s get it done!
The 5000 members of the Montana Wilderness Association are proud to be part of a new day in working together to get things done. One where our treasured public lands bring us together to not only improve land management, but one where we as Montanans sit down together, find common ground, and make decisions that strengthen our communities.
I want to invite anyone hearing this message to go to the web and join MWA, and help support our work – work which is inspiring, challenging, and deeply rewarding.

Doug Ferrell is the President of the Montana Wilderness Association.