BREAKING NEWS: We're following up on this story and will have more on the air starting at 5 p.m. Below is the press release announcing the legislation issued this morning.
In a joint press conference today, Senators Jon Tester, John Walsh and Senator-elect Steve Daines announced a landmark legislative package that includes eight Montana-based lands and resources bills.
"This is a historic day for Montana's treasured lands," Tester said. "Our state is The Last Best Place because of our special places to hunt, fish and recreate, and by responsibly ensuring future generations can enjoy the Rocky Mountain Front and the North Fork, we preserve our outdoor heritage and traditions while strengthening our outdoor economy. I was proud to fight for these bills and get them included in this package."
"Today's breakthrough proves that grassroots government can still lead to lasting results," Walsh said. "Our Congressional Delegation took a page from our fellow Montanans who came together to craft these bills. These bills are important to our outdoor heritage and way of life, and I'm proud that we were able to carry on Montana's century-long legacy of stewardship in the North Fork and the Rocky Mountain Front."
"In Montana, we know the importance of rolling up our sleeves and working together to get things done. By coming together and finding common ground, Senators Tester and Walsh and I are advancing eight bipartisan lands and resources bills that together address the concerns of Montanans from across our state-from ranchers and sportsmen to our tribes and natural resource industry," Daines stated. "I'm proud that we're taking historic steps today to protect some of our state's greatest treasures, expand the responsible development of Montana's energy resources, and expand and protect access to our public lands for generations to come."
Tester, Walsh and Daines worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers to include the Montana bills in a larger public lands package. Former Montana Senator Max Baucus originally introduced the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the North Fork Watershed Protection Act.
The lands package is part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The measure will now be considered by the full House and Senate.
The package includes:
- Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act -- Protects public access along the Front for hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts, designates 208,000 acres as a Conservation Management Area, adds 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, supports a noxious weed management plan, and allows for continued grazing access for Montana ranchers. Additionally, the bill releases approximately 14,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas in southeastern Montana and requires a new assessment of oil and gas potential in the Bridge Coulee and Musselshell Breaks Wilderness Study Areas.
- North Fork Watershed Protection Act -- Permanently protects the American side of the North Fork of the Flathead River Watershed by barring future mining or drilling on the affected 430,000 acres which lie adjacent to Glacier National Park.
- Northern Cheyenne Lands Act -- Restores to the Northern Cheyenne tribe the mineral rights to 5,000 acres containing coal deposits within their Tribal boundary and strengthens the tribe's control over its land base, natural resources and trust funds. Restoring these rights corrects a federal error made over 100 years ago.
- Cabin Fee Act -- Provides certainty for about 700 Montana cabin owners on Forest Service land by establishing a fair and predictable system for setting cabin fees.
- East Bench Irrigation District Act -- Authorizes the Interior Department to extend the water contract between the U.S. and the East Bench Irrigation District for six more years.
- Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act -- Removes outdated federal statutes that currently prevent irrigation districts in Montana and other western states from developing hydropower on Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) canals, ditches, and conduits-four of which are in Montana.
- BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act -- Preserves the Miles City BLM field office by making permanent a successful pilot project originally authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which improves efficiencies for permitting oil and gas development by the Bureau of Land Management.
- Grazing Improvement Act -- Provides Montana ranchers greater certainty by extending the life of grazing permits on federal lands from 10 to 20 years and allowing grazing permits to be renewed while National Environmental Policy Act review is underway.
Many Montana groups, businesses and individuals hailed the announcement as historic.
Dusty Crary: "This legislation is an insurance policy for those who come after us. This legislation does just what it needs to and not one thing more. I'm very proud to have been a part of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, and I encourage our delegation to do all they can to get this signed into law."
Dusty Crary works the family ranch outside of Choteau, Montana. He also runs an outfitter/guiding service.
Karl Rappold: "By supporting the Heritage Act, Senators Tester and Walsh and Congressman Daines are standing up for all of us and for the land. It is really good to see them working together."
Karl Rappold, a fourth generation Montanan, ranches outside of Dupuyer. Much of his property lies adjacent to public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Karl helped create the Heritage Act and, in fact, he came up with the name.
K.C. Walsh: "Simms and businesses that rely on Montana's outdoors will closely watch the progress of this important legislation, and we are encouraged that our congressional delegation is casting politics aside to make this commitment to our public lands and the jobs that rely on them. These bills are a product of Montana, and they are right for Montana. Our 150 Bozeman-based employees, our company's local retail partners and our state's outdoor economy depend on the protections that will come with this important legislation."
K.C. Walsh is the President of Simms Fishing Products in Bozeman, Montana.
Dave Hadden: "Passage of this bill will represent a real success for the Flathead Valley. It not only protects Glacier National Park, but also the municipal water supply for the city of Whitefish as well as commercial operations at destinations such as Whitefish Mountain Resort. Nearly 40 years in the making, this effort shows that people here can work across party lines and agree on issues important to everyone."
Dave Hadden works for Headwaters Montana.
Llevando "Cowboy" Fisher: "We are overjoyed that Congress will be correcting an error made by the United States over 100 years ago when our Reservation was expanded. We thank Representative Daines and Senators Tester and Walsh for their leadership, and working with the Tribe, to remedy this longstanding injustice."
Llevando "Cowboy" Fisher is the President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
Joe Unterreiner: "This is great news for Glacier National Park, Montana, and Kalispell's regional tourism economy. We commend Senators Tester, Walsh and Senator-elect Daines for crafting a bipartisan solution to protecting the Glacier Park-adjacent North Fork area for the benefit of millions of visitors, businesses, and jobs for our state."
Joe Unterreiner is the President of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.
Paul McKenzie: "I'm glad to see Senators Tester, Walsh and Senator-elect Daines working together toward solutions for public lands issues that make sense for Montana. We encourage all of our elected officials to continue to seek innovative solutions through bipartisan cooperation that provides legislative certainty for both the management and protection of our public lands natural resources. Stoltze is happy to see progress made on the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, and we look forward to similar progress being made on the issue of active management of our public lands for multiple use benefits."
Paul McKenzie is the Lands and Resource Manager for F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber.