Throughout my travels across Montana, I continually hear from local communities, farmers, sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts about the need for increased access to our public lands. This coming week, I will bring their voices to Washington D.C. during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing about a bill I have introduced that responds to the local calls for more public access to our public lands.
What you may not know is that in the past forty years, roughly 1.4 million acres have been locked-up in studies to determine if they should, or should not, be designated as Wilderness. As a result, only one hundred thousand acres have been released back to full public access. The rest of the lands sit in limbo.
Once the studies were done Congress was supposed to act. In typical Washington DC fashion it didn’t get done. So I’ve introduced a bill that finishes the job.
My bill, the Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act, releases five Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) that make up 449,500 acres of the lands waiting for action. While there are thousands more that are still in limbo, I put these five WSAs in my bill for two simple reasons. First, the Forest Service determined they were not suitable for Wilderness in their final plan and second, they have strong local support for release, including from the Montana State Legislature. The support also includes dozens of local community groups and elected county commissioners. Once my bill passes it will simply open up public dialogue to begin on how to move forward with these 5 WSA’s. The areas I have suggested to be released are the West Pioneer WSA, the Sapphire WSA, The Middle Fork Judith WSA, the Big Snowies WSA and the Blue Joint WSA.
I believe taking action on the concerns of Montana’s county commissioners, sportsmen and families is the right thing to do, but from the get-go, I said that any WSAs I would include in my bill had to meet the two criteria. WSA’s that were recommended for Wilderness or that don’t have local support for release, won’t be included in the bill. Plain and simple. And if there are other WSA’s that have local support as time goes on, I’ll include them in the bill.
As a fifth-generation Montanan, I understand the importance of access to our public lands and protecting Wilderness areas. That’s why after hearing from many Montanans during my time in Congress, I have taken action on both. I helped lead the effort to designate the first Wilderness in Montana in thirty years and now, I have introduced the Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act to give access to the locked-up lands and return them to the people of Montana.