On Wednesday, Feb. 7, the Ravalli County Commission heard overwhelming opposition to Sen. Steve Daines’ S. 2206, a bill that would open five wilderness study areas, including the Blue Joint and Sapphire Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), to oil and gas development and increased off-road vehicle use.
A staggering 153 people signed in as opposed to Daines’ bill, with only 41 in favor. Over the course of the next few hours, 52 people testified against the bill, 20 in favor. Moreover, 78 people sent the commission emails opposing the bill, compared to 20 in favor.
After hearing nearly three out of every four speaker give testimony in opposition to the bill, the commissioners decided to defy their constituents and not rescind a letter they sent to Daines in support of removing protection from the Blue Joint and Sapphire.
The outcome of the meeting begged the question: Why did the Ravalli County commissioners bother holding a public meeting if they had no intention of listening to their constituents? It would seem they care more about doing Daines’ bidding than about representing our interests.
To add insult to injury, a few days after the commission meeting, Ravalli Commissioner Greg Chilcott said in front of an audience at a Montana Association of Counties meeting in Billings that the majority of people who testified against Daines’ bill at the Ravalli commission meeting were from outside the county.
His statement is not only insulting to those of us went to the commission meeting; it’s also false. We know this because we checked the numbers:
• 58 of the 72 people (80 percent) who testified at the commission meeting live in Ravalli County.
• Of the 58 Ravalli County residents who testified, 42 (72 percent) of them were opposed to Daines’ bill and 16 (28 percent) were for it. That same ratio, 72-28 percent, holds true for all who testified.
• Of the 52 people who testified against Sen. Daines’ bill, 42 (80 percent) live in Ravalli County.
• Of the 20 people who testified in favor of the bill, 16 live in Ravalli County (again, Chilcott should apologize for his statement to the Ravalli County residents who attended the meeting).
Even if Chilcott was right, he still shouldn’t disparage other Montanans for wanting to have a say on the fate of the Sapphire and Blue Joint. After all, these places belong to all Americans.
Ironically, just as hundreds of Montanans were signing into the commission meeting as opposed to Daines' bill and lining up to speak out against the bill, Daines was testifying in a Senate committee that his WSA bill had the support of Montana’s communities.
The reason Daines has little support for his bill is because he didn’t hold a single public meeting before introducing it and didn’t ask for input from everyday Montanans. His bill was instead concocted in closed-door meetings in D.C. in consultation with those representing motorized users, mining companies, and oil and gas. Not consulted were Montana hunters, anglers, hikers, horseback riders, and others who make up the majority of people who use and cherish the Sapphire and Blue Joint, as well as the three other WSAs in the bill – the West Pioneers, Middle Fork Judith, and the Big Snowies.
We’re calling on Sen. Daines to abandon his bill. We’re also calling on him and the rest of the congressional delegation to take a much more inclusive and bipartisan approach to the long-term management of our WSAs than the approach Sen. Daines has taken.
Join us in making that request of our delegation at ourlandourlegacy.org.
- Taylor Orr, Stevensville, is a retired rancher and member of the Backcountry Horsemen of Montana who takes pack trips in the Sapphire and Blue Joint WSAs. Pat Tucker, Hamilton, is an Army veteran and a wildlife biologist who backcountry skis and backpacks in the same WSAs. Marilyn Wolff, Stevensville, is a retired benefits and resource specialist who hikes and horsepacks also in the Sapphire and Blue Joint.