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Daines next public meeting will be his first

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Daines next public meeting will be his first

Feb 10, 2024 | 6:14 am ET
By Zach Angstead Jocelyn Leroux Becky Edwards
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Daines next public meeting will be his first
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A scenic view of Heart Lake in the Scapegoat Wilderness. The United States congress designated the Scapegoat Wilderness in 1972 with a total of 239,936 acres. The long northwest border of the Scapegoat Wilderness is shared with the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the massive limestone cliffs that dominate 9,204 ft Scapegoat Mountain are an extension of the "Bob's" Chinese Wall. Elevations range from 5,000 feet on the North Fork Blackfoot River to 9,400 feet on Red Mountain; the highest peak in the Wilderness Complex. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0)

After Sen. Steve Daines’ latest top-down bill to strip protections from more than 100,000 acres of public lands, we’re standing alongside thousands of Montanans and calling on the senator to meet openly, honestly and publicly with his constituents to hear our concerns about his policies.

The next time he does will be the first.

His current effort would remove protections from three wilderness study areas in western Montana – the Middle Fork Judith, Hoodoo Mountain, and Wales Creek WSAs. The bill has advanced out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, meaning it’s the closest any of Daines’ anti-wilderness study area bills have ever been to becoming law.

Daines has made the executive decision to irreversibly change these places without considering what Montanans actually want. He’s ignored the fact that only 6% of Montanans support removing wilderness study area protections, according to a University of Montana poll. He’s given the cold shoulder to local groups that have been working for years to hash out a future for wilderness study areas.

He’s chosen to forget that Montanans loudly and overwhelmingly opposed previous versions of this bill.

Common sense says a lawmaker shouldn’t push a bill that his constituents don’t support, but Daines has been staking his flag, and his reputation, on the WSA issue for nearly a decade. After every defeat, he’s come back with a new version of the bill, hoping that this time Montanans won’t recognize it.

As a freshman senator in 2015, Daines voted for an amendment that would have slashed protections for 17 million acres of public lands across the country. His vote ignored local efforts to find common-ground solutions for these places. In 2017, he introduced a bill to strip protection from nearly half a million acres of Montana’s public lands. We reacted by calling Daines out for meeting only with handpicked supporters and avoiding input from the public, and the bill went nowhere.

The story of this public lands giveaway is the same. This is a made-in-Washington bill written and introduced without input from anyone besides Daines’ hand-picked supporters. While he’s been pushing top-down legislation, Daines has ignored existing on-the-ground efforts to find sustainable solutions for wilderness study areas. And while he’s paid lip service to collaboration, he’s never given it the time of day.

And he’s had chances.

Montanans were ready to meet publicly with Daines about his 2017 bill, but he chose to stage sham “public meetings” with handpicked supporters, hiding the times and locations of his appearances from the actual public. Instead of taking this chance to rectify his mistakes, he’s doubled down on avoiding the public and pushing this bill from as far away from Montana as he can get.

He’s even brushed off the Montana Legislature, which explicitly expressed support for a collaborative approach to wilderness study area management.

Following widespread condemnation of Daines’ 2017 bill, the Montana Legislature’s interim Environmental Quality Council spent significant time and taxpayer money producing a report calling for locally driven processes to shape the future of wilderness study areas. The committee received public testimony from recreationists, timber industry representatives, conservationists, and other stakeholders. At that time, Daines promised in writing “to respect the state Legislature’s findings.”

He hasn’t.

For too long, Daines has avoided listening, pushing anti-public lands bills we don’t want while telling us that only he knows what’s best for us. Montanans don’t support Daines’ effort in its current form. Montanans deserve better, and we’re standing alongside them and calling on the senator to meet openly, honestly, and publicly with his constituents to hear our concerns about his top-down policies.

 

Zach Angstead is federal legislative director at Wild Montana. Jocelyn Leroux is program director at Montana Conservation Voters. Becky Edwards is executive director at Mountain Mamas.