Missoulian: Our future depends on roadless public lands: Rehberg should pull support from short-sighted legislation

Think of your favorite place in Montana. What comes to mind? It could be a secluded stream you return to every summer for the fat trout that swim in its pools, or the steep mountainside that gives you a sweeping view of the craggy peaks across the valley. Perhaps it’s a quiet meadow you’ve hiked in two hours to reach so that you could find the elk that you’ll shoot to stock your freezer for the winter. Would any of these places be the same with a road running through it?

We are students at the University of Montana and all 10 of us are pursuing different majors. We do, however, have one thing in common: we think the quality of our future depends upon roadless public lands. That’s why we’re pretty alarmed by HR 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act. Introduced by Calif. Rep. Kevin McCarthy and co-sponsored by Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., the bill would remove all protection from roughly 55 million acres across the nation – with most of that land concentrated in Idaho and Montana. When 74 percent of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands are already roaded, those 55 million acres are quite a lot to ask for. As shown by the flurry of commentary seen in the media of late, we’re not the only ones skeptical about this.

On the surface, the debate around the bill has become about access. The main point, we think, is missing from these arguments. We should not be asking whether HR 1581 would harm or help access to the 5.5 million acres of roadless land and wilderness study areas in Montana. Instead, we should be asking ourselves where people will be when there is nothing left to access at all.

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