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Rice Ridge fire aftermath

I write in response to a recent request by Seeley Lake District Ranger Quinn Carver concerning illegal access to public roads needing community solutions. I come from several generations of Montanans and my property borders one mile of the U.S. Forest Service Rice Ridge fire property.

The solution is as per my previous discussion with Carver: simply open up public lands to the public. The national Forest Service has closed thousands of public access roads to the taxpaying public for years using one environmental excuse after another. The result is always the same: once closed, they never reopen again.

The destruction caused by the Rice Ridge fire was primarily the result of the F.S. "let it burn" policy, in which millions of taxpayer dollars in marketable timber was lost. It has been two years and you can still go for miles on this burned property and not see a living thing, not even an environmentally protected grizzly. And what about the loss of stream vegetation for spawning environmentally protected bull trout? So what are you protecting by closing more roads in these areas?

The environmental movement has been manipulated by special-interest groups and political hacks. Since its beginning, it has cost our country billions of dollars in jobs and frivolous lawsuits, along with cost to upgrades and barricades of closed roads and to the disgrace of this nation, it continues.

The greatest environmentalists this country has ever seen have been, are presently and always will be those who make their living off the land. They find a balance between protecting the environment with economic good sense. The same cannot be said for those from other states who are seeking special recognition and monitory gain through lawsuits. Judges presiding in environmental cases are now making biased decisions blatantly obvious.

Citizens need to research the Equal Access to Justice Act, or EAJA. This act was created to help the average citizen fight the federal government. However, it has been used almost exclusively by environmental groups to put millions of dollars into their 501(c)3 coffers at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. It would appear that through environmental bullying in Washington and the courts has driven the national Forest Service from mismanagement of our forest to mismanagement of American citizens seeking outdoor experiences.

No one is suggesting that anyone should destroy public property. However, our representatives need to understand that most Montanans and many of those visiting our state arent seeking to rub elbows with their neighbors or have running water, electricity, hot showers and other amenities as part of their camping experience in Montana. Indeed, it is hard for many of us who have come from generations of Montanans that have not been confined like cattle to public campgrounds, paying fees to enjoy public property we have paid and are still paying for with our taxes.

We see now the Burlington Northern Railroad is being sued because they have killed more grizzlies than ever before. What do you want to bet that a judge will not consider that we now have more grizzlies than ever before? How long will it be before any citizen who accidentally kills a grizzly on a Montana road will be held accountable by the environmentalist and those judges?

I strongly support environmentalists who seek to protect the environment through economic good sense.

Again, Ranger Carver, your best efforts should be to reopen national Forest Service roads to the general public, not play Gestapo by asking our neighbors to spy for the F.S. that is incrementally taking away our citizen rights of public access to public property.

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John Rice of Missoula is a past chair of Montanans for Better Government. 

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