Baucus Introduces New Wilderness Bill

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April 19, 2012 7:19 PM
Senator Max Baucus
Senator Max Baucus

Senator Max Baucus has introduced The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act that will   increase the Bob Marshall Wilderness area by 67,112 acres and designate 208,160 acres of public lands  as a Conservation Management Area (CMA). The CMA is  a new land management designation that Senator Baucus advertises as a "home-grown" category . This Act would affect areas along the Rocky Mountain Front east of Choteau and Augusta.

Senator Baucus claims that this Act was developed as the result of a broad-based collaborative effort with wide  support among Montanans. He calls it a  made-in-Montana plan to protect the Rocky Mountain Front for future generations. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, Senator Baucus does not identify who exactly "collaborated" , so no one can judge just how broad-based the collaboration was. However, his website includes a list of groups who support his legislation.  This list  reads like a Who's Who of conservation groups, including many out-of-state groups like the The Wilderness Society, the Audubon Society and the Defenders of Wildlife.

The "collaborative group" in this case seems to have been a collection of national and state wilderness advocacy  groups all of whom have similar agendas and interests. This is the oldest trick in the book: Convene a small group of like-minded interests, proclaim them to be a "collaborative" group, and represent the outcome of the group as "collaborative" and "broad-based" hoping to lend legitimacy to the proposal.

Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act Map
   Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act Map

What is a Conservation Management Area? Senator Baucus' website defines the CMA established in this Act to be: "208,160 acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land will be managed to keep things the way they are and protected from unwanted changes such as excessive motorized use and road building." While existing motorized roads and trails can continue to be used, the Act would prohibit the designation of any additional motorized routes forever. Is it a reasonable or achievable strategy to manage public land to "keep things the way they are"? After all, the world changes in time: Population increases and redistributes itself, people's preferences change, the demands for recreation and natural resources change - everything changes in time. And who gets to say that "motorized use and road building" will be an "unwanted change" forever in the future?

The Conservation Management Area established by this Act is just another attempt by wilderness advocacy  groups - aided by Senator Baucus - to create more Wilderness Lite. Faced with increasing public resistance to the creation of more Designated Wilderness areas and the fact of extremely low Wilderness visitation rates, these wealthy and influential groups are inventing new strategies to limit public access to public land.

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--From an Op-Ed published in the March/April 2012 edition of th Ravalli County Off Road User Association Newsletter. Reprinted with permission from the Ravalli County Off Road User Association. Please visit them online at: http://www.rcorua.org/.

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