Would Public Meetings Have Killed Wilderness Bill?

Thursday, December 18, 2014 4:03 PM

Here’s some more facts, substance and context about the 449 pages worth of Public Lands Riders, which certainly Senator Tester and Rep Daines don’t really want people in Montana to know about. http://bit.ly/1zaaQFp

This Public Lands Rider Package attached to the $580 Billion Defense Bill not only give away public lands to a foreign mining corporation in Arizona, and 70,000 of National Forest land to a timber corporation in Alaska, but overall the package will mean more taxpayer-subsidized pubic lands grazing, mining and oil and gas development, all with less public input, less protection for wildlife species and less science-based management. So I guess in that way, the package is ‘historic.’

In Montana, with NO public notice or meetings, Senator Tester and Rep Daines decided to release currently protected Wilderness Study Areas for development. They also threw some Montana ranching families under the bus by giving Great Northern Properties 112 million tons of coal, which is equivalent to 3 years worth of all coal currently mined in Montana. Tester and Daines both fully admit they did this in secret, with no public meetings or public notice in today’s Missoula Indy. See here: bit.ly/1sJhcLR

For some Wilderness perspective, the bill protects only 1% of the 6,397,000 of unprotected Wilderness-eligible roadless acres in Montana, and that’s 67,000 acres in some scattered areas as part of the RMFHA. Nationally, these riders protect just 0.2% of unprotected Wilderness-eligible acres. This is no way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act or preserve America’s Wilderness legacy for wildlife and future generations.

Keep in mind, the protection of this tiny fraction of Wilderness-eligible lands comes at a tremendous cost to America’s entire public lands legacy, as well as a huge cost to U.S. taxpayers, who will be called upon to sacrifice more so King Coal and Big Oil can continue to reap huge profits exploiting America’s public lands.

Another rider in the package was the so-called “Grazing Improvement Act,” which has been touted by Daines/Tester and not even mentioned by the likes of TWS or MWA.

Under this rider there will now be automatic renewal of expiring grazing permits on public lands, not only on millions of acres of public lands in Montana, but on close to 1/4 BILLION acres of public lands throughout the West.

These public lands grazing permits must now be automatically renewed even if these permits are causing the decline of greater sage grouse, other sensitive wildlife species, or even ruining riparian areas and watersheds, and even BEFORE the completion of any NEPA analysis or public input process.

Basically the rider gives Cliven Bundy types the ability to have grazing permits on public lands automatically renewed even a NEPA process hasn’t been done, and even if their public lands grazing practices have caused tremendous harm to sage grouse, desert tortoise, or any other wildlife species, harm to riparian areas, etc.

And as you saw, as part of the other CRomnibus $1.1 Trillion spending bill the GOP took a page from Senator Tester (“Thank you Senator Tester!”) by simply passing a rider to prevent the listing of the sage grouse under the ESA.

Also, the Defense Bill riders had a bunch of other stuff important to MT, such as streamlining (i.e. less science, less NEPA analysis, less public input) for oil/gas/fracking leases across millions of acres of public lands. There also were a few provisions that essentially re-adjusted royalty payments that Big Oil and mining companies had to put back into the US Treasury, so that’s another taxpayer handout.

You can bet that Daines and Tester know all about all this stuff, but they are keeping quite about it. Honestly, Tester doesn’t want his left-leaning constituents to know about the full extent of how these public lands riders undermine America’s public lands legacy.

Plus Daines is more than happy to not shine a light on any of this stuff so he can fly under the radar. After all, Daines has just delivered the “goods” to the oil/gas/minging/grazing/racking outfits, so he could care less about publicity. In fact, the more attention all this gets hurts both Tester and Daines.

And of course, groups like the Montana Wilderness Association also don’t want to draw any attention to all these terrible provisions within the 449 page rider package. After all, MWA has gotten millions of dollars from the Pew Foundation, and others, to push these bills, so they are more worried about ‘claiming victory’ and sending out fundraising letters than being honest with their members, or Montanans who care about public lands and Wilderness.

Another issue to keep in mind is that once the new Congress kicks off in 2015 just what more “bipartisanship” between Tester/Daines/Zinke (or the Dems in general and the GOP-controlled House/Senate) will look like.

I mean, if Daines was able to ‘extract’ all these compromises from Tester already, with the Dems in control of the Senate, just what will Tester (and MWA, TWS, etc) be willing to go along with in 2015 and the near future?

For example, you can already see that Daines is going to go after a huge mandated logging bill package, and Tester will very likely cave on that one too. The GF Tribune covered a little bit of this issue just yesterday.

The irony is that while Tester and Daines claim they need a mandated logging bill to ramp up logging of public lands in Montana, the Forest Service rubber-stamped Bullock’s secret 5 million acre ‘fast-track’ logging nomination. So, right now the Forest Service in Montana is entirely free to conducted an unlimited number of 3,000 acre logging projects on any of these 5 million acres of National Forests, and all these logging sales would be “categorical excluded” from the requirements of NEPA.

These are the questions almost everyone in the conservation/Wilderness movement are asking themselves. To be certain, the Montana Wilderness Association and The Wilderness Society are waaay out on a limb here, and have the tiger by the tail…and just. can’t. let. go.

Montanans and America’s public lands and wildlife deserve far better. Hopefully more people are waking up to what’s really taking place with public lands management in the state of Montana and will speak out to stop what’s essentially a political takeover of these public lands. Thanks.

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