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Bill Proposes Protection, Development Of Montana Public Lands

Flickr user Bitterroot (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

Montana's Senators and Senator-elect today announced what they're calling a “landmark” package of public lands legislation. It's being tacked on to a Defense authorization bill that the House and Senate are expected to vote on this week and next.

Democrats Jon Tester and John Walsh joined Republican Steve Daines in saying they're confident Congress will pass the bill. It would affect public lands - including mining and energy development - in several states.
In Montana, the legislation includes one measure to prevent mining and drilling along 430,000 acres adjacent to Glacier National Park.

Another creates new wilderness on the Rocky Mountain Front.

Some 5,000 acres of coal reserves would also be returned to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. It proposal would also  "improve efficicneice for permitting oil and gas development by the Bureau of Land Management." Another measure sets a predictable system for fees for hundreds of cabin owners on Forest Service Land.

During a joint press conference announcing the deal today, Senator Tester said he felt this rider is the best way to advance these measures.

"The Defense authorization is a national bill so I think the result is the same. If we passed each one of these individually or passed them in a block only unto themselves, or passed them as an amendment under another bill, the result is the same; The result is a winner for Montanans".

Congressman Steve Daines says the delegation spent lots of time listening to Montanans to ensure their concerns were incorporated into the package.

"To make sure we strike the right balance of preserving and protecting these public lands for the future, as well as ensuring we sanded off some of the rough spots to allow grazing, to make sure we release some wilderness study areas in some parts of our state as well," Daines said.

"This city (Washington D.C.) gets nothing done most of the time. It's tied up in partisan gridlock. I was proud of Montanans and proud of (this) delegation that it could come together and find common ground to move policy forward that's going to help our entire state," he added.

Gerry Jennings is a former president of the Montana Wilderness Association. She says the conservation group is particularly excited about the inclusion of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act in the suite of bills. She describes the Front as an "iconic landscape."

"It's probably one of the most beautiful in the whole United State and perhaps the world when you consider the views, when you consider the mountains, when you consider the wildlife and when you consider the ability of people to go in and consider a beautiful landscape, spiritually, mentally, physically...whatever. It's the best."

But the website Energy and Environment News says the Sierra Club is “not happy” with how the legislation unfolded, and that “The losses far outweigh the wins.” The website says environmental groups are split on bill.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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