Wilderness Study Areas are making Montana wildfires worse

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By Rep. Bill Harris

This past year saw devastating wildfires across Montana—but none was so destructive as the Lodgepole Complex fire in Garfield and Petroleum counties. The Lodgepole fire was the largest in the country, ultimately destroying over 270,000 acres and devastating hundreds of families.

Could that destruction have been prevented? That’s a question that we can never answer fully. But one factor that undeniably made this fire worse was where it started.

The Lodgepole fire was sparked by a lighting strike in Sandage Coulee, in the heart of a Wilderness Study Area (WSA).

EPA’s overreach has real life consequences

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"Road to Nowhere" by John Fowler, BY CC2.0.

Joe Robertson’s story is a cautionary tale. Last year Mr. Robertson, a 77-year-old disabled Navy veteran from Basin, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars. His crime? Digging ponds on his property after getting a state—but not a federal—permit.

It’s cautionary because under the Obama administration’s agenda to control all the water in the United States, the EPA had hoped to make cases like Mr. Robertson’s the new normal. Plans were in the works to expand federal authority to impose heavy punishments on unsuspecting property owners for relatively pedestrian activities, like installing fences or digging ditches.

To get there, the EPA attempted unilaterally to expand their authority under the Clean Water Act. As written, the Clean Water Act applies only to “navigable waters”—those running from state to state. Protection of other surface waters was left to state regulators, which is one reason Montana has some of the toughest water quality standards in the country.

Don’t let fake narrative block Monuments review

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"Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic River, Montana," by Bureau of Land Management, CC 2.0.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has made an admirable attempt to solicit input from Montanans about how National Monuments have affected our state. It’s unfortunate that effort has been drowned out by fake advertisements aimed at misleading Montanans and funded by out-of-state environmental groups.

Opposition to the Monuments review centers on the ridiculous claim that it will result in the federal government selling federal land to private entities. Not only is that the direct opposite of Secretary Zinke’s stated objective, it’s illegal for the federal government to sell public land.

Yet we hear over and over again that the Trump administration has some secret plan to sell lands currently in National Monuments. It’s a fake narrative designed to avoid having a real conversation about the impact monuments have had in Montana and other states.

One of the red flags that prompted the Monument review by Secretary Zinke was the sheer scope of land that has been encompassed using the Antiquities Act, which has included hundreds of thousands of acres of private land. It’s clear from the language of the Antiquities Acts itself that it was never intended to be the vehicle for a government land grab.

Bozeman Chronicle wrong to suggest suing landowners to take property

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"Spring Wheeling 025," by Powhusku. CC 2.0.

In its August 1 editorial (“Governor’s new office must focus on access“), the Chronicle calls on Governor Bullock to sue private landowners in order to take their property for recreational purposes for the public.  It’s an absurd, undemocratic, illiberal, and ultimately unconstitutional notion.

The Chronicle claims that we are losing public access to landowners “who throw up gates across traditional public access roads and trails.”  That’s not true.  It’s illegal to gate a public road or trail, and gates put up illegally—maliciously, or more likely by mistake—are removed.

What the Chronicle really meant to say in its editorial is that it believes the state should begin confiscating roads and trails that are privately owned but that are desirable in some way.

To take private property by suing landowners isn’t just a dumb and dangerous idea, it’s completely unnecessary.  The Montana legislature has already taken big steps to cooperatively gain more access across private land—providing tax incentives to landowners for access and prioritizing state funding for access easements.

Shawn Regan on a better way to promote public access

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"Post" by Candace Fladager, CC 2.0.

No one likes when landowners slap up “No Trespassing” signs and block access. But with access disputes back in the news, it’s time to confront the possibility that our current strategies to promote public access aren’t solving the problem — they’re making it worse.

Access disputes boil down to a simple fact: Whether over concerns about privacy, liability, or risk of abuse by a few bad actors, landowners are often reluctant to grant strangers open access to their private property.

But when it comes to trying to enhance access, we often go about it the wrong way. Public-access groups pursue confrontational approaches that make enemies out of the very landowners they need to engage most.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. Consider the sharing economy, which is revolutionizing the way people tackle similar problems. With services such as Airbnb and Uber, entrepreneurs find ways to share “access” to underused assets like spare bedrooms or vehicles. They do so by connecting suppliers and demanders and creating trust among both parties.