Thursday, December 4, 2014

Giving Thanks

 I didn’t bag a buck or a bull this year and apart from a young pronghorn buck who was kind enough to succumb to my 30-06, my freezer is empty, but I have a lot of thanks to give this holiday season.
Most importantly, thanks go out to Senator Jon Tester, Senator John Walsh and Congressman Steve Daines for their hard work and dedication to advance Made in Montana bills like the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the North Fork Preservation Act.

These bills, along with a number of other good (and a few not so good) provisions were included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 this week. That bill funds our nation’s defense, and it’s passed every year for over 50 years, so even in the most dysfunctional congress in memory, the likelihood of passage is as high as any other bill. It’s not a done deal, but it’s damned close. In fact, as I was writing this, the bill passed the House and is now on it's way to the Senate. 

Both the Front and the North Fork bills have wide support across Montana. Sure a few extremists on either side of the issue don’t like it but these bills gained the support of our entire delegation because they are locally supported collaborative bills that engaged working Montanans, rancher, hunters and anglers and small businesses across the state from the get-go.  

More importantly, it’s a good sign that our delegation will work together in the next congress to address other critical conservation issues like the Land and Water Conservation Fund Re-authorization and hopefully the Forst Jobs and Recreation Act as well.

I spent 6 years working on the Front legislation with a host of other great people. Here’s what I learned: When people put aside their ideological differences and focus on a common goal, rooted in the possibility of actually protecting something everyone loves, the end product is strong enough to withstand the vagaries of congress, the slings and arrows of detractors and the poorly considered opinions of critics who didn’t engage in drafting the bill to begin with.

A mighty tip of our Stormy Kromer to our delegation for fighting for what’s right, and working to get these two critical bills over the finish line before the end of December.

What those bills do: 


Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act: 
The bill would create about 60,000 acres of new wilderness in the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness complex. It would further designate about 200,000 acres as a Conservation Management Area where existing uses like hunting ,grazing and current travel regimes would become the law of the land. The CMA is a new designation and one that was drafted specifically to ensure that the habitat remains in good shape, while providing the certainty that livestock operators need to keep their leases, some of which date back to before the establishment of the Forest Service. This bill was crafted by the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front and is endorsed by dozens of local sporting groups, businesses and folks who live in Montana.

North Fork Protection Act:
The NFPA would take away the ability to drill for oil and gas along the North Fork of the Flathead River. While there remains much debate about the amount of recoverable gas along the North Fork, some poorly planned development could come along and destroy one of Montana’s crown jewels in the Crown of the Continent. Backed by major oil and gas companies, sportsmen, conservationists and a host of politicians from both parties, the North Fork Protection Act is an important step in ensuring the North Fork always remain wild and free.



Thanks, Congressman Daines, Senator Tester & Senator Walsh for your willingness to work for all Montanans, and to advance good ideas even when the going gets tough. 

We would be remiss to point out that not all that glitters is gold in this bill. In order to get the Montana bills as well as some bills for New Mexico and Colorado, compromises were made that we're holding our nose on. However, we're not willing to let perfect be the enemy of good, and while those provisions are problematic and difficult to allow movement forward, it is important to recognize the hard work the delegation did in order to get Congress to actually do something with net positive gain for hunters, anglers, wildlife and most importantly, wild country. 

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