Daines is jeopardizing the Bob Marshall
Guest column, Missoulian
Sep 19, 2018


Arguably, no other place in Montana represents the outdoor heritage of our state so significantly as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. Cherished and celebrated worldwide, “the Bob” is part and parcel of what makes Montana so exceptional.

Why in the world then would U.S. Sen. Steve Daines write a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting he develop — by administrative decree — eight airstrips within the Bob that haven’t been used since the 1950s? If these overgrown and long-forgotten airstrips were re-opened, it would dramatically increase air traffic and noise all over the Bob Marshall Complex and profoundly diminish the solitude, sanctuary and silence that thousands of Montanans come to the Bob every year to experience.

Daines is, in effect, asking Perdue to unilaterally violate the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act, which prohibits mechanized use in designated wilderness areas, including the Bob. Daines wrote his letter on behalf of a single organization — the Recreational Aviation Foundation — without first consulting with businesses, outfitters, hunters and anglers, equestrians, organizations or individual Montanans. Daines is again prioritizing the interests of a tiny fraction of Montanans over the rest of us who spend time in the Bob precisely because it offers a retreat from an increasingly noisy and fast-paced world.

That’s why we’re calling on Daines to abandon his efforts to open these airstrips and acknowledge that doing so would be a violation of the Wilderness Act.

The Bob Marshall was permanently protected for future generations when the Wilderness Act was signed into law in 1964, creating the National Wilderness Preservation System. This law mandates the Forest Service to prioritize wilderness values above all over values in the Bob Marshall and other wilderness areas. As the Wilderness Act so eloquently states, "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

The 1.5 million-acre Bob Marshall Complex includes the Great Bear and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas. Thanks to its wilderness protection, the Bob provides some of the most secure habitat in the Lower 48 for elk, grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, mountain goats, westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout and a host of other species that make this area so unique.

The economies of nearby gateway communities also rely on the Bob’s wilderness protection. The opportunity to hike, backpack, rides horses, fish and hunt in one of the most primitive areas in the Lower 48 draws Montanans and out-of-state tourists by the thousands every year to these communities. Dozens of trailheads, rivers and one airstrip (Schafer Meadows in the Great Bear Wilderness, grandfathered in with the Wilderness Act) already provide abundant access to these wilderness areas.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Daines has imperiled the Bob Marshall Wilderness. In 2015, he voted for a budget amendment on the Senate floor that would have created a “reserve fund” to facilitate the sale, transfer or exchange of the Bob Marshall and all other wilderness areas to state and local governments. That amendment was voted down, thank goodness.

With his letter to Perdue, we are again disappointed — though no longer surprised — that Daines would use his power as a U.S. senator to jeopardize an area that generations of Montanans consider sacrosanct. After all, with its rich history of pack and saddle use, backpacking and backcountry hunting and angling, the Bob epitomizes the outdoor heritage that defines our state and who we are as a people.

Re-opening eight airstrips in the Bob would not just violate the Wilderness Act, it would also violate what we cherish most about living in Montana.

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