This West Is OUR West

Bozeman legislator proposes eliminating wilderness study areas

February 17, 2017

By Rob Chaney

A legislator known for supporting motorized access to public lands has introduced a resolution asking Congress to un-designate Montana’s wilderness study areas.

Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman, submitted House Joint Resolution 9 on Friday. It calls for dropping nearly 1 million acres from possible federal wilderness consideration. Wilderness study areas in Montana exist mainly on U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management public lands.

If enacted, the resolution would ask Congress “to enact legislation to release all wilderness study areas identified and specified in the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977.”

It also asks Congress to manage those places according to the Forest Management Act of 1897 “to improve and protect the forest … for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States.”

In the resolution’s justifications, White claimed in the resolution that Montana’s economy was hurt “by recent management policies, resulting in the closure of 22 sawmills since 1990 and causing the loss of over 2,100 primary industry jobs and over $50 million in wages.” He added that Congress’ inaction was wasting forest assets, reducing forest road construction and “severely (harming) agriculture, timber harvesting, and multiple-use interests.”

White did not return phone messages requesting comment on his measure. A longtime leader of Citizens for Balanced Use, White recently represented the American Lands Council on a tour promoting the return of federal lands to state management or ownership.

Joint resolutions must be passed by both the state House of Representatives and Senate, but do not need the governor’s signature. They express an opinion of state government, but do not have any force of law.