Bob Marshall

The rugged beauty inside the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex near Seeley Lake. 

One thing most Montanans agree on is we love our nationally acclaimed wildernesses and don’t want to see them harmed. Whether we hike, fish, hunt, ride horsepack or just stand in awe of these wild gems, Montana’s designated wildernesses are the pride of our state. We might fight like hell over whether to designate this area or that one as new wilderness, but the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, Selway-Bitterroot, Absaroka-Beartooths and our other protected wildernesses are sacred to Montanans of all stripes.

That is, apparently, all stripes except U.S. Congressmen Greg Gianforte, who just voted to effectively repeal the Wilderness Act and open places like “the Bob” to endless forms of habitat manipulation, predator control, road-building and anything else that might be construed as benefiting “hunting, angling, recreational, shooting, or wildlife conservation.”

This stealth attack on the Wilderness Act comes in the form of H.R. 3668, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. It would affect every wilderness in the nation, including all of Montana’s wilderness gems.

By nearly unanimous vote, Congress passed the 1964 Wilderness Act in order to protect America’s wildest landscapes. The law describes wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man... retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” The Wilderness Act is essentially nature’s Bill of Rights, places where we humans, out of a sense of respect, humility and foresight, have agreed to let nature be. Since passage of the Wilderness Act, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to include 110 million acres in more than 760 units.

The SHARE Act would turn the Wilderness Act on its head, allowing endless habitat manipulation and modification, including logging, chaining, herbicide spraying or myriad other offenses done under the guise of “wildlife conservation” or for providing hunting, fishing and recreational shooting experiences. While such management might be fine for a Texas game farm, they represent a dramatic change for the Wilderness Act, which for over 50 years has required the preservation of wilderness character as the top priority for public wildernesses.

The SHARE Act would also allow the construction of “temporary” roads, dams or other structures in wilderness, again if done under the guise of benefiting hunting, angling, recreational shooting or wildlife conservation. And all such projects would be exempt from any environmental review or public scrutiny under the National Environmental Policy Act — in essence making wildernesses some of the least protected of all public lands.

The bill is being pushed at the behest of the Safari Club International and a few like-minded groups that are upset that wildernesses around the country aren’t managed like game farms, something Montanans roundly rejected at the ballot box not long ago. Not satisfied with the rich diversity of life our wildernesses hold or with the special experiences that wilderness provides, these groups want wilderness managed solely to benefit their idea of hunting and to favor the animal species they want to shoot. Even if it means building a road or a dam, clearcutting a forest or wiping out native predators to meet their hunting or angling goals.

Montanans who love our wildest, best places and don’t want them degraded for a selfish few should contact Rep. Gianforte and urge him to remove the wilderness gutting provisions from the SHARE Act. Before it’s too late.

George Nickas of Missoula is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization.

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