On March 25, SJ20 was heard in the Senate Natural Resources Committee in the MT State Legislature. Introduced by J. Welborn (R-District 36), the resolution requests an interim study of certain Wilderness Study Areas in Montana and convene stakeholders, discuss options for disposition, and provide recommendations to Congress. This bill would affect the future of approximately 660,000 acres across seven Montana Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs):
- West Pioneer Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 151,000 acres;
- Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 61,000 acres;
- Sapphire Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 94,000 acres;
- Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 34,000 acres;
- Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 81,000 acres;
- Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 91,000 acres; and
- Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area comprising approximately 151,000 acres.
On Monday, Montana Wilderness Association’s executive director, Ben Gabriel, testified at a hearing for SJ20. MWA opposes the bill as currently written, but supports the creation of a process to engage Montanans in deciding the future of wilderness study areas. MWA is advocating for a number of significant amendments to ensure a fair and open process that makes a good-faith effort to engage all Montanans.
Both FMB and MWA support the concept of SJ20 providing a forum for stakeholders to have a voice in the management of Wilderness Study Areas. FMB endorses MWA’s assertion that in order for the process to be successful, the following must be considered:
- the outcome must reflect the fact that our public lands are the backbone of our outdoor heritage, a source of clean drinking water, and critical wildlife habitat;
- any process must engage a diversity of voices, including conservation interests;
- any process must be open to the public, include a broad spectrum of stakeholders, and be fair and transparent; and
- any process must respect current collaborative proposals and agency planning processes.
MWA is monitoring this bill and has a website where you can add your name to stay updated on the process and commit to taking action when the time comes. Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument recognizes the need for all of us who care about the Monument to stay alert and involved in actions that may affect Montana’s public lands.