HAMILTON - It’s a dispute that’s not getting any easier to resolve. What should happen to five of Montana’s Wilderness Study Areas? Tracts that were set aside in 1977, but latter left out of a bill to create new wilderness in a “pocket veto” by President Reagan.
Senator Steve Daines suggests it’s time to take them out of WSA status.
But that idea was widely panned Wednesday by a crowd of more than 250 people who showed up to ask Ravalli County commissioners to recall a controversial letter supporting the Daines bill. Speakers blasted the board and the Senator for not getting more public input before taking the position, and reviewing the decades of debate over the wilderness designation.
“I think if you review all of those you’ll see that there is, indeed, support for wilderness in Ravalli County," said Dave Campbell with Trout Unlimited. "There’s support for releasing portions of these. So it’s not all or nothing.”
“They would like to be heard. This meeting and this hearing should have been held by Senator Daines before it ever got to this point,” said wildlife biologist Bill Geer.
“It’s not pitting one Montanan against another. Let’s do this process right. Let’s stop shopping for excuses and start listening to all,” another speaker said.
“You obviously take your marching orders from Senator Daines," said another speaker. "I mean, you’re obviously grown men. Come on!”
Some of the snowmobilers and mountain bike riders who’ve been shut out of the Blue Joint and the Sapphire for the past couple of years say they would like to see the Daines bill approved so it could resolve the future status of the Wilderness Study Areas.'
“It just simply takes the WSA repeal, or status, off of the lands. That’s all it does. Then it opens up the door for a collaborative process.”
“Congress has failed to act on those areas for the last 30-years. This has created a horrible mess.”
Commissioners let the letter stand. But they will continue to take public input as they monitor the progress of the Daines bill in Congress.