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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/29/09

NREPA – A Homespun Vision for the Northern Rockies

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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, two-thirds of the National Forest nearest my home have been developed. We who grew up here have firsthand 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!

Northern Rockies residents now know that we need to retain our dwindling public wildlands. In that light, I am a strong supporter of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA), which protects 24 million acres of National Forest roadless areas in Montana, Idaho, northwestern Wyoming, eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington (text at: click here ).
Montana’s far-right Rep. Denny Rehberg got a lot of ink in Western states with his recent tirade ( ) against NREPA (H.R. 980) and his mean-spirited attack upon New York’s Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who is sponsoring the Act along with 90 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 remaining National Forest roadless wildlands. Montanans overwhelmingly favor the “Roadless Conservation Rule” that safeguarded the 6.4 million acres included in NREPA.

The Roadless Conservation Rule received the most public participation of any proposed federal regulation in the nation’s history. In Montana alone, 34 hearings were held, while over 600 hearings were held throughout the country. 
More than 1.6 million wrote comments on roadless protection. An overwhelming majority – 78 percent of Montanans and 95 percent of Americans – supported full protection for our roadless wildlands. 
Rehberg claims that NREPA “federalizes” these 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 is a land developer and spokesman for big oil. Were he a hunter, he would know that, since roadless wildlands provide the best habitat, they are preferred 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 season is due directly to the prime habitat provided by 6.4 million acres of wildlands. 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 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 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.  

The biggest lie that Rehberg and other extremists perpetuate is that NREPA is “top-down” management, forced upon us locals by “outsiders.” 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 conservation organizations, wildlife biologists, and others, I wrote the first two drafts of what-was-to-become the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act in 1986 and 1987. Born and raised in Helena, I am hardly an “outsider.”

Contrary to Rehberg’s assertions, NREPA is a homespun vision for the Northern Rockies. It was brainstormed and written by political leaders, economists, scientists, business owners, sportsmen, sportswomen, and concerned residents who fully recognized the need for, and the benefits of, protecting the incomparable Northern Rockies ecosystem -- the ONLY place in the lower 48 states where all native species and wildlife still remain. 

Twenty-three years is long enough to wait: NREPA’s time is now! For more information, or to lend your support, go to: Thank you.

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Paul Richards, a Boulder Montana area businessman, is a former member of the Montana House of Representatives and a former newsman with The Associated Press. In 2006, he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Richards full testimony before (more...)
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