The U.S. House Thursday passed a defense-spending bill containing a broad public-lands package for Montana, including new wilderness on the Rocky Mountain Front, bans on mining near Glacier National Park and changes supporting oil exploration and grazing on federal land.
The Republican-controlled House voted 300-119 for the $585 billion defense policy bill, which funds U.S. troops, military operations, ships, planes and war equipment. Montana’s only House member, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican, voted for it.
The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration, where a vote is expected next week.
Daines and Montana’s two Democratic U.S. senators, John Walsh and Jon Tester, announced Wednesday they’d agreed on a public-lands package inserted into the bill late Tuesday night.
They called the agreement an “historic day” for Montana, as it includes a variety of public-lands measures that have been in the works for years.
Congressional delegations in several other Western states also inserted their own state-specific public-lands language into the sprawling defense bill.
Some wilderness advocates and defenders of public lands objected to the provisions, saying they included too many concessions to resource industries.
But many in Montana’s conservation community lauded the package, saying it accomplished some long-standing goals of protecting the North Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier Park and the Rocky Mountain Front, adjoining the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Highlights of the Montana land package include:
- Adding 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and designating 208,000 acres along the Front as a conservation management area.
- Releasing 14,000 acres of wilderness study areas in southeast Montana, near Lame Deer and Broadus, for regular management by the Bureau of Land Management.
- A ban on future mining or drilling on 430,000 acres of public land directly west of Glacier National Park, near the North Fork of the Flathead River.
- Extending the life of grazing permits on federal lands from 10 to 20 years.
- Making permanent a pilot project at the BLM field office in Miles City, allowing it to keep fees from oil-and-gas permits that can hire more staff to process permits more quickly.