Celebrating Scapegoat Wilderness

2012-08-19T08:00:00Z Celebrating Scapegoat Wilderness missoulian.com
August 19, 2012 8:00 am

This week, as Montana celebrates the 40th anniversary of one of its most prized places – the incomparable Scapegoat Wilderness – it is important to look back over the once-contentious history and the long years of struggle that laid the foundation for the protections we enjoy today.

It is important because the Scapegoat’s history is rich with lessons that apply to Montana’s current struggles with proposed wilderness. In fact, two proposals awaiting action in Congress are traveling a road that was paved by supporters of the Scapegoat Wilderness all those years ago.

In 1972, the Scapegoat earned a place in history as the first citizen-designated wilderness in the nation. The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act introduced by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act introduced by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., both have their roots in citizen-led proposals.

The names of those who fought for and won the Scapegoat Wilderness are now legend. The attitudes of most naysayers have long since changed, and the new folks – that would be anyone under the age of 40 – who gape at the wonders of the Scapegoat perhaps take it for granted that this place is protected.

But that was not always so. The Scapegoat designation came in response to the pressing threat of timber development in the 1950s. The Forest Service was planning to lay roads in the Lincoln backcountry to facilitate access for logging. When locals learned of these plans, they began working to stop them – and calling on Montana’s congressional delegation to take action too.

Montana’s representatives in Congress didn’t see eye-to-eye back then any more than they do now, but they still managed to agree on one thing – that the Scapegoat deserved federal protection as an official wilderness area. In fact, the biggest quibble was only over how many acres to protect. Sens. Lee Metcalf and Mike Mansfield, both Democrats, introduced a bill in 1965 that would have covered only 75,000. When Republican Rep. Jim Battin introduced a bill expanding the area to 240,000 acres, both Metcalf and Mansfield dropped their bill and backed Battin’s.

Still, it wasn’t until 1972 that the Scapegoat Wilderness Act was officially approved by Congress. And even then, the victory wasn’t viewed as such by all. The Forest Service, especially, was less than enthusiastic about the change and openly warned that it could set a precedent that would prove disruptive to Forest Service land policy.

The Forest Service needn’t have worried. Montana has gone without any new wilderness designations all these many years.

That’s not for lack of trying, and it’s not for lack of enthusiasm. In fact, a recent statewide poll points to the high value Montanans continue to place on our shared public lands, and wilderness in particular. Its key findings, released in May, found high levels of support for public lands and wilderness across the board. Overall, 85 percent of Montanans agree that wilderness protections are good for Montana, while only 11 percent perceive wilderness as bad for the state.

The poll also found high levels of support for the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (79 percent) and Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (72 percent). The forest jobs act, introduced in July 2009, would add 30,000 acres of wilderness in the Kootenai National Forest, 83,000 acres of wilderness to the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountain wilderness areas, and 554,000 acres of wilderness in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. At the same time, it would set timber harvest thresholds for the Forest Service, and release or designate additional acres for recreation.

Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act could add 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It too seeks to balance its wilderness proposal with protections for other interests.

Those who think they know these two proposals and have made up their minds about them – for or against – should go back and give them a second look with fresh eyes. But look first at the Scapegoat Wilderness. Just look at what those long years of struggle won for Montana.

Then look with far-seeing eyes at the opportunities we have before us to protect some of the Treasure State’s most valuable, irreplaceable treasures – its public lands. That, fellow Montanans, is a legacy worth leaving – and one we celebrate this week, with thanks to those who set aside their differences and took action 40 years ago.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen

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(2) Comments

  1. JerryArthur
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    JerryArthur - August 22, 2012 11:09 am
    New idea for a documentary film - 'Matthew Koelher versus the world'
  2. Matthew Koehler
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    Matthew Koehler - August 21, 2012 8:45 am
    I have no doubt that the majority of people in Montana support Wilderness protection and keeping our public wildlands the way they are. However, I highly doubt that support for specific legislation mentioned in this editorial, Senator Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, would be anywhere near as high if the FJRA question was actually an accurate portrayal of the bill and not simply what amounts to the solely positive talking point we often see regurgitated by die-hard supporters of the bill.

    The Missoulian was nice enough to provide me with a copy of the "Recent statewide poll" regarding public lands and Wilderness. As expected, it's more of a "push poll" designed to get a pre-determined result than an actual unbiased poll. For example, it was funded by Montana Conservation Voters with money from foundations who support Sen Tester's FJRA and other "collaborative" bills.

    Here's the actual question language related to Senator Tester's FJRA from the poll:

    "The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, a partnership with timber companies and conservation groups, which protects wilderness areas on three national forests, while also requiring the Forest Service to increase logging for jobs and forest health"

    Notice the question only focused on the FJRA in an entirely positive light. One has to wonder if the if the FJRA "question" would have brought up the fact that Tester's FJRA releases Wilderness Study Areas for development that were protected by the late Senator Metcalf what the results would have been. Or how about if the poll question would have acknowledged the fact that Tester's bill would allow sheep ranchers motorized access into designated Wilderness areas? Or if the poll question would have pointed out that the Forest Service is concerned that the FJRA would cause budgetary problems throughout our region? Or if the poll question would have mentioned that some roadless and wildlands would become more of a motorized recreation play area than pristine land?

    The undeniable truth of the matter is that the FJRA poll question is obviously very one-sided and doesn't at all touch on any of the concerns many different people (whether rural county commissioners, ranchers, conservationists, etc) have with the FJRA.

    I'm sort of surprised that the Missoulian would include the poll info in your editorial without clearly pointing out who paid for it and the very biased nature of the questions asked.
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