Which Montana Senate Candidate Supports More Wilderness?

When U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talks about his record, he often points to his forest jobs and wilderness bill as an example of what he’s trying to do: Fix things that are broken, by listening to Montanans.

“Did everybody get what they wanted?” he says. “No. But everybody who wanted their input in it was at the table.”

The 2009 bill, which has yet to pass, would create 660,000 acres of new wilderness in western Montana while dictating that 100,000 of acres of national forest be managed for logging, to help create timber jobs while preserving wild areas.

Yet Tester’s main re-election opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., has opposed the measure, saying its only guarantee is more wilderness, while giving no such assurance for logging in the forests.

“It doesn’t mandate (any logging),” Rehberg says. “He can say that, but it’s just not true. I’m trying to tell people who were part of the collaboration that they’re being sold a bill of goods here.” Continue reading

Grasslands reserve buys 150,000-acre Mont. ranch

The most dramatic feature of eastern Montana’s prairie is a sea of grass fading into a blue sky that stretches from horizon to horizon.

But, for more than a century, what’s given the land definition have been fences — thousands of miles of barbed wire slicing across the prairie and pulled taut to keep in cattle.

Now on tens of thousands of acres of former ranchland those fences are being pulled down by a private conservation group funded by deep-pocketed philanthropists.

In the heart of Montana’s cattle country, the American Prairie Reserve is assembling a wildlife preserve that could be larger than Connecticut and rival the West’s great national parks.

On Tuesday, the Bozeman-based group announced its biggest step yet toward that goal with the purchase of the 150,000-acre South Ranch from families with a century-long tie to the land.

The deal more than doubles the amount of public and private property under the reserve’s control just north of the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, about 60 miles from the Canadian border.

Scientists familiar with the initiative describe it as an unprecedented attempt to restore an often-overlooked ecosystem that supports hundreds of species of birds, mammals, plants and insects.

The ‘‘end-game’’ is the free flow of wildlife — pronghorn antelope, predators and up to 10,000 bison — across three million acres or more of public and private land, organizers said.

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Free the American West

Like much else in government, U.S. public land policy is a vestige of the past, established in 1910 when America’s population was just 92.2 million and a Western state such as Nevada had only 81,000 residents.

Today our needs are much different and much greater. The United States can no longer afford to keep tens of millions of acres of “public” land locked up and out of service. Some of these lands have great commercial value; others are environmental treasures. We need policies capable of distinguishing between the two.

Few Easterners realize the immense magnitude of the public lands. The federal government’s holdings include about 58 million acres in Nevada, or 83% of the state’s total land mass; 45 million acres in California (45% of the state); 34 million acres in Utah (65%); 33 million acres in Idaho (63%); and more than a fourth of all the land in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming. Continue reading

Cattle Industry Pressuring Forest Service

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association continues to raise concerns to the U.S. Forest Service about the detrimental impacts its proposed forest planning rule would have on federal lands ranching. Joe Guild, a rancher from Nevada and chairman of NCBA’s Federal Lands Policy Committee, says the Forest Service should walk away from the proposed forest planning rule and work with cattlemen on a plan to manage the land and its resources while sustaining a productive ranching industry.

NCBA Past President Bill Donald, a rancher in Montana, says cattlemen oppose the requirement to maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern. He said there is no scientific consensus on what level of any given population is viable or how it is to be managed.

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