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!