Montana Needs More Wilderness

With both Senator Daines and Congressman Gianforte sponsoring legislation to remove wilderness study designation for some Montana Forest Service and BLM lands, it behooves us to consider what is at stake. These lands are some of the finest wildlands left in the Nation. Protecting Montana’s wildlands is good for the ecology and economy of the state. It is part of the heritage of all Americans.

Wilderness designation is the “gold standard” for conservation. If we wish to protect the best wildlands, then we need to use the best laws we have to do this, and the 1964 Wilderness Act is the best tool we have.

Montana’s economy is no longer “resource extraction dependent”. Over 70,000 jobs in the state are attributed to outdoor recreation, while around 3000 are in the timber industry. Similar declines in livestock production, oil and gas, and other industries are all documented.

Wilderness designation and protection enhances these outdoor employment opportunities.

Many “Footloose” individuals are moving to Montana, starting businesses here, or attracting high-quality workers who want to live in a place where nature is close by. Even if they never climb a mountain or fish a river, many of these people just like looking at the spectacular scenery out their backdoors.

Second, many species of wildlife survive at higher numbers in our protected landscapes. For instance, the last, best waters for native trout are in roadless lands. The best elk habitat is in roadless lands. The last refuges for grizzly bears, wolverine, and lynx are primarily in roadless areas.

Wilderness also provides and protects ecological services like clean water, carbon storage, and biodiversity.

That is the reason, many of the world’s scientists are calling for protecting up to 50% of the Earth’s land as protected landscapes. Yet only 2.7% of the acreage of the lower 48 states are designated wilderness, while in Montana only 3.7% of the state’s land area is in designated wilderness.

Third, there is a philosophical rationale for protecting more wilderness. There is the intrinsic value of biodiversity and wildlands. We all share the earth with many other creatures. Wilderness designation is a recognition that we must give back to Nature. It about giving space for the “others” to live.  If we can’t survive well on the 90% plus of the Montana landscape we have already modified and managed, we are in deep trouble.

The efforts of Daines and Gianforte will be taking us backward by removing interim protections from some of the finest wildlands in Montana. Those of us fortunate to live in or visit Montana have an obligation to protect these lands for all time. Wilderness is the gift that keeps on giving and will only be more valuable in the future. Wilderness protection is about humility and restraint. It is a selfless expression of the best in human behavior.


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Comments

  1. Nancy Avatar
    Nancy

    “The environmental devastation that had taken several thousand years to accomplish in Europe was replicated in three centuries in the Americas. Such was the price and the speed of the “progress” achieved on the American Frontier”

    https://consortiumnews.com/2018/03/16/26319/

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Three hundred years – that always shocks me to know. Talk about destructive! 🙁

Author
George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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