Letters to the Editor

Time to retire Wilderness Study areas

Dear Editor,

I think this is a good time to share the obvious reality concerning the Lodgepole fire complex.

First of all, lightning started the fire in Sandage Coulee, not in Lodgepole Creek. Sandage Coulee is located in the center of a Wilderness Study Area. This Wilderness Study Area only includes a few thousand acres of very rugged Musselshell River breaks.

These areas have very strict rules as to how they can be used, including no roads, no motorized use, no improvements or such installments as water pipelines or fire suppression, other than what firefighters can do on foot with whatever they’re able to carry in. Local BLM and volunteer firefighters push the limits, but only so far. The Lodgepole fire was allowed to grow in the beginning because of these rules, and the fact that there was no vehicle access allowed to fight the fire.

Then, because of the dry conditions and winds, the fire grew out of control as it expanded and consumed thousands of acres heading south, and spreading east and west. At the same time, the fire smoldered and burned in Sandage Coulee for several days, slowly creeping north.

I practically begged the BLM and firefighters passing through, telling them it was crucial that they attend to the fire in Sandage Coulee. I couldn’t understand why my warnings fell on deaf ears. But finally, they sent a crew as the fire exploded, coming up Sandage Coulee rapidly and devouring Smith Coulee as it burned out of the proposed wilderness area.

It was then that they arrived with five pumper trucks and a small crew. They tried to make a stand, but by then the fire had grown so fierce they couldn’t stop it. It then burned to Lodgepole Creek with the help of a hard wind. The fire had already reached upper Lodgepole by that point, but the fires burned together, then spread to the North and to the East.

I am describing all of this to help everyone understand what part the proposed wilderness area played in this horrible disaster. Those involved will probably dispute what I am telling, but it is exactly what happened. I’m not blaming anyone for anything. I’m just pointing out what the responders have to deal with.

I believe it is time for all of us to make it clear to Representative Gianforte and senators Daines and Tester that we insist that they retire the ridiculous designation of Wilderness Study Areas. The designation serves no purpose and has contributed a great deal to this disaster in particular. I think the most effective way to make the changes needed is to flood  Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke with our concerns. and urge a change in federal lands management.

Rep. Bill Harris (HD 37)

Winnett, Montana


Zinke should delay monument decision

Dear Editor,

Here is a letter I wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke:

Landowners in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument area were somewhat perplexed when you announced your “likely” decision on the monument on June 27, at Whitefish, Montana. Because the public comment period did not close until July 10, landowners rightfully believe your announcement was premature and that you did not consider those comments that were still enroute to you, including a June 30 letter, signed by 17 members of Congress.   

More importantly, you have been sent comments from monument proponents, preservation acolytes and Governor Bullock who claim that 130,000 people visit the monument and spend $10M a year in the area – claims that are just not true. Those beliefs appear to be based on a 2015 report developed by a Denver economic research firm that made an economic assessment of the monument with wildly inaccurate BLM projections that 1.8 million people would visit the monument during 2001-2013 – a number that does not reflect reality and is just patently false; the BLM knows it but has made no effort to correct the record or address the issue.  

Secretary Zinke, it is imperative that you delay your decision on the monument until you have ground-proofed the visitation and economic assertions attributed to the monument and investigated other dubious statements about the local area’s dependency on the monument.  Your final decision should be based on facts, not on claims by those who would rewrite the history of the monument. 

Ron Poertner 

Winifred, Montana



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