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Protecting America’s Public Lands a National Concern

Posted by Matthew Koehler on November 23, 2009

The following perspective is from Keith Hammer. Mr. Hammer grew up hiking, skiing, camping, hunting, and fishing in the Swan Mountains of Northwest Montana. He has worked a number of jobs, from Forest Service trail worker to logger to backcountry guide, and currently works as an environmental consultant and head of the nonprofit Swan View Coalition, which he co-founded in 1984. Keith and Swan View Coalition have gotten over 600 miles of road decommissioned on the Flathead National Forest to restore fish and wildlife habitat.

Protecting America’s Public Lands a National Concern!
By Keith Hammer, Swan View Coalition

We can take much inspiration from Ken Burns’ film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” and readily extend its premise to the remainder of America’s public lands. Key take-home messages in Burns’ film are that threats to America’s wildlands never cease and that their protection is brought about through national concern and legislation, often over the objections of local politicians.

Indeed, as elk and bison were being slaughtered by commercial hunting in the West in the late 1800s, it was not the new states of Montana and Wyoming that put an end to it. It was Representative John Lacey of Iowa who prohibited the interstate transport of illegally killed wildlife when his “Lacey Act” was signed into law by President William McKinley in 1900.

Montana Senator Thomas Long objected to what is now Glacier National Park being designated a Forest Preserve in 1900, followed by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce objecting to its designation as a National Park in 1910. Thank goodness for the persistence of Americans George Bird Grinnell and others, who had the foresight to see that the area needed better protection than that afforded the Forest Preserves (later known as National Forests) and convinced President Taft to designate Glacier as America’s 10th National Park!

Today, local communities thrive on tourists visiting Glacier National Park and the families and businesses choosing to locate near it! More recently, the town of Seward, Alaska was so dead-set against the designation of Kenai Fjords National Park that it passed two resolutions denouncing the idea. After the Park was designated in 1980 and Seward began to reap the rewards, however, it rescinded its previous resolutions and asked that the Park be expanded! President Carter, once burned in effigy in Alaska for his conservation initiatives there, nonetheless tripled the size of Denali National Park and designated most of it Wilderness for added protection.

For these reasons and more, we helped write and support the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act knowing it may not initially garner support from Congressional delegations in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. It builds upon President Clinton’s – and now Obama’s – intention to protect roadless lands from development, sequestering carbon in roadless forests also serving as wildlife migration corridors. It also creates high-paying jobs restoring watersheds through road reclamation .

In contrast, Senator Tester’s (D-MT) wildlands logging bill (Links: here, here and here) would set dangerous precedent by mandating logging levels on two National Forests and subsidizing the burning of public forests as “biomass.” It would also release from protection numerous roadless lands and Wilderness Study Areas granted protection by the far-sighted Senator Lee Metcalf in 1977!


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