Four votes this week left Montanans wondering if Daines means what he says.
(Note: We are re-posting this blog from our friends at the Montana Wilderness Association. It’s extremely relevant to anyone who cares about Montana’s public lands, and it’s particularly relevant to the six wilderness study areas on the Monument, which would have lost protections had the amendment that Sen. Daines supported not been voted down this week.)
This week, the U.S. Senate took up three amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill that, when taken all together, amounted to an assault on public land conservation in Montana. The amendments would have pulled the rug out from under local, collaborative efforts to conserve special areas in Montana, taken away the funding that allows us to access and enjoy public lands, and gutted a bedrock conservation law that allows the president to protect America’s most treasured places.
Cow Creek Wilderness Study Area, in the Missouri Breaks Monument. This is just one of the thousands of places that would have lost protections had an amendment supported by our new senator not been voted down this week. (Photo Bob Wick, BLM.)
It was a shock to outdoorsmen and women across Montana to learn that Sen. Steve Daines voted yes on all three amendments. Worse yet, he introduced two of them.
Fortunately, the Senate ended up rejecting all three amendments, but Sen. Daines’s votes have left Montanans wondering about his approach to the management of America’s public lands and asking whether his verbal support for local Montana-made solutions is simply empty political rhetoric.
The first of the amendments that Sen. Daines supported was Senate Amendment 166 (SA 166), introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. This amendment would have stripped protections on approximately 27 million acres of American public lands that either lie within wilderness study areas (WSAs) or have been recommended for wilderness by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Montana is home to 37 BLM WSAs totaling more than 437,000 acres. An additional 178,000-plus acres in the state have been recommended for wilderness by the USFWS.
These unique areas are managed for their wilderness character after extensive public input and scientific research. They contain exceptional wildlife habitat, incredible recreation opportunities, and a spectrum of cultural and historical values.
The six WSAs in the Missouri Breaks Monument — and the Cow Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern — are in green on this map. The WSAs would have lost all protections under an amendment supported this past week by our new senator.
Local collaborative efforts are underway across Montana as neighbors strive to find the right solutions for managing the areas targeted by this amendment. Had SA 166 passed, it would have laid those efforts to waste, removed Montanans entirely from the process of deciding how these lands should be managed, and deprived future generations of ever knowing or appreciating these lands as they are now.
Sen. Daines’ yes vote on SA 166 was just the beginning of his attack on public lands this week.
Not long after the Senate voted down SA 166, he introduced an amendment (SA 246) that would have undermined the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a popular, bipartisan program that takes royalties from oil and gas development and channels it toward cities and states to help them conserve irreplaceable lands, improve outdoor recreation opportunities, and provide access to fishing, hunting, and hiking areas.
Sen. Daines has said he supported this program, but his amendment would have stalled the reauthorization of the program and left its future in question. If Sen. Daines’ amendment raised questions about whether he really supports LWCF, then his next vote answered those questions.
After SA 246 went down, three senators introduced SA 92, an amendment that would reauthorize LWCF without delay and ensure communities, landowners, and others relying on the fund are not left stranded when current authorization expires on September 30, 2015.
Astonishingly, Sen. Daines voted against that amendment.
But Sen. Daines still had one more arrow to sling at American public lands and the Montanans that he should be representing. He introduced an amendment (SA 132) that would have gutted the Antiquities Act, a bedrock piece of legislation for conservation in America that has allowed eight Republican presidents and eight Democrat presidents to protect America’s most treasured places.
Again and again, Sen. Daines has told Montanans that he supports Montana-made solutions for managing Montana’s public lands. In fact, just last month he sent us a letter requesting our thoughts on how public lands should be managed. We provided a lengthy response that was signed by organizations and outdoor businesses across the state. We requested a balance that values recreation, forest restoration, conservation, and development. We also requested that he work with Montanans and the rest of the congressional delegation before taking any votes. Less than a week after receiving our responses, he ignored our feedback and tried to strip Montanans of their outdoor heritage not once, not twice, but four times in two days.
His votes this week also indicated that, once again, he prefers a different approach than the one Montanans have already chosen. Daines instead wants a top-down, one-size-fits all approach that pays no heed to the collaborative work happening on the ground in his state. These votes show that Daines would rather side with a Senator from Alaska and the other extremists in his party than with the people of his own state.
His recent support for the bipartisan lands package that included the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the North Fork Watershed Protection Act gave Montanans hope that he believes in Montana-made solutions and is working for the good of Montana’s outdoor heritage.
His votes this week dashed those hopes.
– Montana Wilderness Association