Public Land Bills Garner Praise And Criticism

Dec 4, 2014

The Chinese Wall in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness
Credit The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation

The U.S House has approved a $585 billion defense bill that includes unrelated provisions to expand wilderness areas. The vote was 300 to 119.

The measure allows President Obama to expand America's military mission against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria. It now moves to the Senate where some Republicans object to the unrelated wilderness measures announced yesterday.

Montana's congressional delegation heralded the suite of included land bills as a historic, rare display of collaboration and Congressional bipartisanship. Some Montana environmental groups agree.

A Montana Wilderness Association representative told Montana Public Radio this week the organization is excited about the inclusion of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. But Matthew Koehler of the Missoula-based Wildwest Institute doesn't share the enthusiasm.

"This bill nationally would protect 0.2 percent of all wilderness eligible road less acres on public lands in the country," said Koehler. "Even in Montana, we're supposedly going to break the 33 year wilderness drought by boldly protecting 1 percent of the remaining 6.3 million acres of wilderness-eligible roadless lands in Montana."

Koehler adds the measure includes unsavory grazing provisions that he describes as a rollback on environmental law and public lands giveaways.

Montana Wood Products Association executive vice president Julia Altemus says the land bill neither bolster nor hurts the state's timber industry.

"It does clear the decks of land bills as far as going into the next Congress, so that's a good thing," said Altemus. "Also, I think on the North Fork there's some timber up there that this bill, conservation stuff, does not affect the management of that timber. So, that's something our association is definitely supportive of."

The measure now heads to the Senate where passage is generally expected.