Clean | Green | Sustainable

Once Again, Rehberg Gets It Wrong

Posted by Matthew Koehler on May 27, 2009

(This article was written by Paul Richards. Richards is a former member of the Montana House of Representatives and numerous state and federal advisory councils.  In 2006, he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Click here for Richards’ testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands concerning NREPA.)

Montana’s far-right Rep. Denny Rehberg got a lot of ink with his tirade against H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) and his mean-spirited attack upon Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who is sponsoring the Act, along with 70 other members of Congress.

Rehberg claims “96 percent of us who live in these areas oppose this bill.”  In reality, 78 percent of all Montanans support full protection for our region’s remaining National Forest roadless wildlands.  Montanans overwhelmingly support the “Roadless Conservation Rule” that safeguarded the 6.4 million acres that are included in NREPA.

The Roadless Conservation Rule received the most public participation of any proposed federal regulation in the history of the nation.  In Montana, 34 hearings were held across the state, while over 600 hearings were held throughout the country.

In total, more than 1.6 million Americans wrote comments on the roadless protection policy.  An overwhelming majority – 78 percent of all Montanans and 95 percent of all Americans – supported full protection for our country’s roadless wildlands.

Rehberg claims that NREPA “federalizes” these public roadless wildlands and that “bills like NREPA create more federally controlled land.”  Apparently, Rehberg does not know basic American history:  His fellow Republican, President Theodore Roosevelt “federalized” these lands in 1907, over 100 years ago!

Rehberg  evokes the most passion with his stirring defense of gun rights.  “There’s a new concern looming in the minds of the folks around Montana and the country,” he warns.  “There aren’t many things folks in the Northern Rockies care more about than their Second Amendment rights.  Bills like NREPA create more federally controlled land, but they don’t guarantee Second Amendment rights on that land.”

Huh?  Rehberg, one of the richest members of Congress, is a land developer and spokesman for big oil.  Were he a hunter or outdoorsman, he would know that, since our roadless wildlands provide the best habitat, they are the preferred places for big game hunting.  With guns.  Has Rehberg ever heard of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, our region’s hunting Mecca?

Montana has the best hunting season in the country, and it’s not by accident. Our five-week-long general hunting season is due directly to the prime habitat provided by these 6.4 million acres of roadless wildlands.  Montana hunters and anglers want these lands protected.

Rehberg is just plain WRONG when he claims Montanans do not support these priceless wildlands.  Rehberg is WRONG when he says we don’t appreciate their pure water, clean air, and abundant fish and wildlife.  Rehberg is WRONG when he claims Montanans and other residents of the Northern Rockies want to destroy these public wildlands with taxpayer-subsidized road-building, logging, mining, and other development.

Despite Rehberg’s claims:  Private land is NOT affected by NREPA; grazing and existing mining claims are NOT changed; gun rights are NOT taken away; and environmentally-sustainable logging outside roadless areas will continue.  We’re NOT talking about already-developed national forestlands.  These are federally-inventoried ROADLESS AREAS, for God’s sake!  They have been wild for millennia.  Their remaining so will not bring about apocalypse.

Rehberg apparently has no concept of leaving future generations a public lands legacy.  Our future citizenry will need these wildlands for psychological, spiritual, scientific, economic, educational, biological, ecological, and societal well-being.  Public wildlands are simply too valuable to be recklessly squandered away by short-term politicians like Rehberg.

The biggest lie that Rehberg and other extremists perpetuate about NREPA is that is it is “top-down” management, forced upon us locals by “outsiders” like Rep. Maloney.  First, these National Forest wildlands belong to ALL Americans, not just local anti-wilderness rednecks.

More importantly, Rehberg is just plain wrong about NREPA’s origins.  After consulting with numerous Montana conservation organizations and wildlife biologists, I wrote the first draft of what-was-to-become the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act in 1986.  After involving about a dozen more regional conservation groups, I wrote the text of the second draft of what-was-to-become NREPA in 1987.

I’m not an “outsider.”  I was born and raised in Helena.  Growing up in Montana, we always heard about “multiple use” for our National Forests.  When I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, that meant hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, hunting, grazing, and fishing.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, however, we saw more and more National Forest wildlands converted into single uses:  Roads, clearcuts, same-species tree plantations, scars from off-road vehicles, open pit mines, and toxic mine waste dumps.

Now, in the National Forest nearest my home, two-thirds of the Forest has been developed.  We who grew up here have first-hand knowledge that roadless wildlands are fast disappearing.  Roads on National Forests in Montana increased from 8,600 miles in 1945 to 32,900 miles in 1997.  Nationally, the Forest Service is now overwhelmed by more than 380,000 miles of roads, eight times larger than the entire Interstate highways system!

We who grew up here know that it is time to protect ALL of our few remaining public roadless wildlands in the Northern Rockies.  Twenty-three years is long enough to wait:  NREPA’s time is now!

5 Responses to “Once Again, Rehberg Gets It Wrong”

  1. For more information, or to lend your support, go to: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Support-NREPA . Thank you.

  2. Tara said

    Paul,

    Can you come visit our small community towns in Montana that depend on the logging and mining so that we can survive and take your petition around and see how many people you actually get to support your cause. I guarantee you the people most effected by this bill do not agree. We don’t want more federally protected land. We agree with you that we want our Mountains and the many resources they provide to be preserved but we don’t want to go about it in this fashion. If you were to come to where I live and look at the west side of our town and then turn and look to the east you would see that both sides are plagued with beetle kill. If you know anything on this subject you would know that this beetle kill makes us a prime spot for the fire season. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to go in and log the current beetle infested trees (to stop it from spreading further) because of current federal restrictions. Meanwhile, our beautiful mountains are deteriorating every year. Sounds pretty asinine to me.

    So please enlighten me. Come to my town and see what kind of response you receive.

    • wildernessmt said

      I know all about small Western towns. I live in a small community that used to depend on logging and mining.

      The loggers did NOT log at a sustainable level. They took everything and then they left. As for the mines, all we have left now is massive toxic waste tailings dumps that pollute our rivers and streams.

      I’m from here. In my lifetime, most of the National Forest around me has been roaded and logged. The BLM land has been mined. And now ORVs are tearing up what little is left. It’s a mess! These were PUBLIC lands, that were supposed to have been held, in trust, for the public. Not just today’s public, but tomorrow’s public as well.

      Throughout the entire West, most National Forests have been roaded and logged. NOTHING will be gained by destroying the few public roadless wildlands that remain! Better that we learn to log at SUSTAINABLE levels on the National Forest land that has already been developed.

      If we can’t log at sustainable levels, then we shouldn’t be logging. No matter how much you want to wish it so, we simply can not have infinite consumption of finite forests.

      The Northern Rockies’ National Forests should be managed as FORESTS, not tree farms. The hard reality is: Trees grow much more readily in the South, where it is warm and moist. That’s where we will get our wood fiber from, not from steep Rocky Mountain hillsides with a 30-day growing season that get a total of maybe 10 inches of precipitation in a good year.

      Our few remaining roadless wildlands are roadless because they are steep, inaccessible, and unproductive, when seen with a “timber” mindset. Logging them is not “harvesting,” it is “timber mining.” These 350-year old trees that might have an 18-inch to 20-inch diameter won’t grow back.

      Our remaining public wildlands are too valuable to squander. We’ve got to leave a public lands legacy for those who follow. Protected wildlands provide psychological, spiritual, scientific, economic, educational, biological, ecological, and societal well-being.

      And, let’s not just talk about humans here. Please don’t forget: There are so many species that depend on our few remaining public roadless wildlands. These are secluded species that can not tolerate molestation. These species have a right to exist.

      But, if you must only consider human greed, please don’t forget that humans MUST have clean air and pure water.

      Roadless areas provide clean air and pure water. Clearcutted, roaded, and denuded hillsides don’t. The dirty water runs right off with the first snow melt, instead of gradually percolating into the ground, as it does in a forest. Ranchers can’t irrigate without a steady supply of water. If you clearcut a forest, all of our water will run off in a one-week flood. What are the ranchers going to do when they need that water later in the summer?

      The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act is visionary legislation that will provide for stable economies and stable communities. Chambers of Commerce and other greedy developers fought the creation of Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and pretty much every other major asset that Montana has.

      Protecting our public roadless wildlands will prove to be a major asset to Montana and the world. As long as they are wild, these lands will draw hunters, anglers, photographers, hikers, backpackers, wildlife viewers, and seekers of all types.

      It’s possible that, with NREPA, your town will change. Instead of scrapping the bottom of the barrel, consuming our last natural resources, and destroying the essence of what makes Montana Montana; your town, if it is fortunate enough to be near protected wildlands, will learn to draw upon its major strength.

      Instead of transients looking for the next resource to exploit, your town will be populated by people who actually appreciate where they live and take loving care of it. You will likely see more local agriculture, more locally-produced food, more skilled craftsmen, more barter fairs, more culture, more fulfilled residents, and a stronger community fabric.

  3. [...] exactly where the figures come from, former state senator Paul Richards recently suggested that “78 percent of all Montanans support full protection for our region’s remaining National For… (I think he may be counting comments from the more than 1.6 million Americans wrote comments on the [...]

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