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Ravalli County

We are four of the Ravalli County residents pictured in the yard signs and billboard that hold our county commissioners accountable for dismissing their constituents who want to have a say in the future of our public lands, especially our wilderness study areas (WSAs).

Last week, the Ravalli Commissioners sent a letter to Attorney General Tim Fox asking him to investigate a list of Montana-based conservation and sportsmen groups for unspecified reasons, groups to which we belong. Our Land, Our Legacy - a group of Montanans defending the state’s WSAs - is on that list. With support from Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society and National Wildlife Federation, Our Land, Our Legacy sponsored the yard signs and billboard.

In sending this letter to the attorney general, the Ravalli Commissioners are choosing to attack us rather than respond in a civil and democratic manner to our request that we be given a voice in deciding the future of our WSAs – public lands we depend on for our drinking water, our fish and wildlife populations, and our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy.

We put our faces on the billboard and yard signs because of the Ravalli Commissioners’ response to a meeting they held in February to discuss Daines’ bill that could make two WSAs in our backyard, the Blue Joint and Sapphire, available to industrial development. Around 80 percent of the 200 or so who signed in and testified at the meeting opposed Daines’ bill. Those people also asked the commissioners to rescind a letter they sent to Daines supporting the removal of protection from the Blue Joint and Sapphire WSAs. The commissioners denied that request, and continue to support Daines’ and Gianforte’s legislation in spite of the overwhelming opposition from their constituents.

Daines still points to the Ravalli Commission letter as “proof” of public support for his WSA legislation, even though the letter received no public backing. We discovered that the commission sent a similar letter to Gianforte, also without public backing. Again, the letter is used as “proof” of public support for his WSA legislation stripping protections from more than 800,000 acres of pristine public lands.

In sending the letter to the attorney general, the commissioners are not aligned with their constituents’ interests. They are instead aligned with the interests of a D.C. lobbyist named Richard Berman.

The commissioners’ letter is more or less based on Berman’s “Green Decoy” smear campaign targeting long established, grassroots Montana-based sportsmen and conservation groups. Berman orchestrates this campaign on behalf of special interest groups that would like to seize and exploit public lands. (He also ran campaigns defending the tobacco industry and smearing Mothers Against Drunk Driving.) Why are Ravalli Commissioners aligning themselves with Berman’s effort to silence Montanans who are fighting to have a say in the management of their public lands?

Unfortunately, the commissioners are following Daines’ and Gianforte’s lead. In March, Daines, himself, used the “green decoy” insult in reference to two Montana sportsmen groups that oppose the WSA legislation.

Daines and Gianforte dismissed Montanans again in May, when they unsuccessfully tried to discredit the bipartisan 2018 University of Montana Public Lands Survey, showing that 81 percent of Montanans, of all political stripes, oppose their WSA legislation and a scant 11 percent support it. Instead of accepting the poll, they labeled the 81 percent of us who oppose their legislation as “extremist” or “radical.”

Instead of listening to, learning from, and being guided by the people they work for, Daines, Gianforte, and the Ravalli commissioners are trying to shut our voices down.

Ravalli County residents, indeed all Montanans, deserve better. We will continue to fight for a balanced, bipartisan approach to the future of our WSAs that engages a spectrum of Montanans, not just special interests.

- Kathy Hundley, Darby, is a substitute school teacher and backcountry horsewoman. Butch Waddill, Florence, is a retired Marine Corps combat veteran and former representative to the Montana State Legislature. Marilyn Wolff, Stevensville, is a retired benefits and resource specialis. Kay Fulton, Victor, is retired teacher and college administrator.