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Montana’s opinion pages have been overflowing with commentary from environmentalists attacking and defending Sen. Jon Tester’s wilderness bill.

The quibbling is like a scene from one of those cheesy airline hijack movies: The plane has been baking on the tarmac for far too long. Panicky terrorists bicker while the hostages are dying.

Think about it. For more than 20 years now, thanks to bad law and worse judges, environmentalists have held public lands and resource producers hostage everywhere in the West, not only Montana. They have repeatedly extorted ransom from the American public, in the form of 106 million acres of big “W” Wilderness so far, plus restrictions and prohibitions on economic uses and modern recreation on hundreds of millions more acres of other public lands.

As is usual for hijackings, the hostages (national forests) are dying. Really. Just in Montana, just since 2001, around

6 million acres have been lost to bugs and wildfire – 600,000 acres a year. In 2008 and 2009 alone, 2.7 million acres of Montana forest went to bugs, doomed to become jackpot jungle firetraps primed for a spark.

Montana’s timber industry is mostly dead, too. The surviving “partners” not yet killed and tossed on the tarmac have classic Patty Hearst/Stockholm Syndrome: They’ll say and do anything to stay alive.

The moderate Greens know if the hostages croak, the negotiations are over forever. An interim deal might buy them time to regroup. The extremists know it too, but they still want to blow up the plane – they’ve waited long enough to collect on those 72 virgins.

A real-world hostage rescue team would try their best to storm the plane, rescue the hostages and arrest all the terrorists.

After 46 years, I think most Montanans are at the point where we’d be satisfied (not happy) if our hijackers got a final suitcase of truly outstanding wilderness, repeatedly recommended by agency staff.

In return, the rest of us get binding legal reforms, so we can “unload the hostages” for good, bring our forests and economy back to health and get on with real life.

Because the hijacking was perfectly legal, the hijackers can keep the plane and soar off to Paradise one last time – with the understanding that they never darken the Big Sky again.

So, what is hostage negotiator Tester’s plan? He proposes a million-acre wilderness bill with a token amount of forestry.

In order to keep radicals such as Howie Wolke (guest column, Feb. 16), co-founder of Earth First!, from dynamiting the deal, supporter Rick Bass (guest column, Feb. 19) conceded that S1470 is a “little bill ... a scrap, a minuscule crumb of success.”

Bass exaggerated; 600,000 acres of Montana forest a year have been dying due to lawsuit-driven policy stupidity. Tester’s bill might allow a puny 10,000 annual acres of “stewardship,” which in turn might preserve 200-300 jobs at most – if nobody sues. But someone will. Tester’s bill contains no legal reforms, virtually guaranteeing the forestry side will fail.

Don’t think so? After his “scrap” admission, Bass then expressed “the need for wilderness on the Rocky Mountain Front, or the Crazy Mountains, or the Scotchmans, or the Great Burn, or Ten Lakes,” or any of the other 7 million acres of Montana that Greens insist become wilderness.

Perhaps Bass, a writer, should have attempted the truth with Wolke: “Look, Tester wants to hand us a sack of wilderness and gas up our plane! We’ll fly off, feed the hostages a little sawdust soup, then fly back and demand more! Not only that, but you get to keep your briefcase bombs! Can’t you see that Tester is our guy?”

Yep. We can also see that passing Tester’s proposal would allow Montana’s ongoing, landscapewide catastrophe to rage on unabated, along with Green demands for more, more, more.

That ain’t gonna fly.

Dave Skinner of Kalispell is a member of Montanans for Multiple Use.

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