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Montana Editorial Roundup

August 7, 2019

Billings Gazette, Aug. 4, on land management plan for Lewistown district:

Two percent protected for wildlife and water, 98% open to development isn’t balance.

Yet that is what the federal government is proposing in the latest version of its plan for managing 650,000 acres of public land in the Lewistown Bureau of Land Management district.

The draft environmental impact statement now out for public comment is lopsided in favoring mining and drilling over any protection for wildlands, native wildlife, or natural water sources. The current “preferred alternative” from BLM is vastly different than the plan that started in 2013 and was nearly completed in 2016. That proposal incorporated ideas from public meetings and public comments that strongly supported balance between conservation and development.

When that made-in-Montana plan was presented to BLM leadership in Washington, the Lewistown Field Office was directed to get more information. Then the political landscape changed drastically. President Donald Trump took office and Ryan Zinke was appointed secretary of Interior. They pursued policies to rev up energy production nationwide.

The current BLM “preferred alternative” doesn’t include any Areas of Critical Environmental Concern or Wilderness Study Areas for protection from development. Federal law requires the BLM to identify Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. The earlier “preferred alternative” identified 100,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas and 26,000 acres for Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. Apparently, BLM leadership is no longer concerned with protection of wildlands.

The radical transformation of the Lewistown district preferred alternative under the Trump administration coincides with strikingly similar changes nationwide. The BLM has released six draft plans covering more than 20 million acres of public lands in the past four months, Ken Rait of the Pew Charitable Trust pointed out in an article published July 23. Pew’s review of BLM plans in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Oregon “reveals that in each of the alternatives preferred by the agency, BLM significantly reduced protections that have been in place for decades and proposed minimal new safeguards for only a fraction of 1% of the areas. In addition, BLM proposes opening vast acres in these planning areas to energy and mineral development.”

The six draft management plans include two in Montana: Lewistown and Missoula.

“For Montana’s Lewistown and Missoula planning areas, BLM proposed no safeguards for lands with wilderness qualities and only one tiny 640-acre ACEC (Area of Critical Environmental Concern) designation, while 23,000 acres of such protection would be eliminated in the Lewistown planning area,” Rait wrote.

Across the six planning areas, BLM proposes to eliminate 94% of ACEC that were established in prior BLM plans and to protect just 2% of the lands that the agency determined to have ACEC-qualifying values, for culture, scenery, geology, paleontology, fish and wildlife.

The Gazette has received several letters to the editor this summer arguing for protection of the superb elk and deer hunting habitat in the Lewistown BLM district. As reported previously by Gazette outdoor editor Brett French, hunting and fishing bring an estimated 160,000 sportsmen and women to the area annually and contribute about $4 million to the economy, according to a study by Headwaters Economics.

The BLM Draft Resource Management Plan isn’t set in stone — yet. The public comment period is open until Aug. 15. Everyone who cares about public lands should speak up now. All who believe that both development and wildland conservation are essential must tell the BLM. This remote, ruggedly beautiful region stretching from the Canada border south to the Missouri Breaks between Havre and Glasgow shouldn’t become a sacrifice to one political ideology that prioritizes oil and gas drilling above all other uses.

When adopted, the new Resource Management Plans will be applied for the next 20 years. Let’s make sure that federal decision makers listen to Montanans before they finalize a decision that Montanans will have to live with for a generation.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2Kmyco4

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Daily Inter Lake, Aug. 4, on access to Flathead Lake:

Local infrastructure is bearing the weight of northwest Montana’s booming tourism industry and a rapidly growing population.

In recent years, simply finding a parking space at Logan Pass has become an intense race up Glacier’s alpine highway. Get there later than 8 a.m., and you’ll likely be left circling the lot like a vulture over fresh meat.

The parking situation in downtowns across the valley is getting more congested too, as more and more people discover the area.

Another area feeling the strain is the public access points along the north shore of Flathead Lake. Daily Inter Lake reporter Mackenzie Reiss detailed in Thursday’s edition how the influx of visitors and locals alike is taxing the Somers Fishing Access on U.S. 93.

On any given summer weekend, a long stream of trucks with boat trailers will line up, waiting to jockey for position at the boat launch and one of the coveted 28 parking spots. It can be a long wait and a potentially dangerous situation for pedestrians along the busy stretch of highway.

In fact, data shows that in 2018 the site saw a whopping 48,533 vehicles.

“There’s 28 parking spots and 350 cars per day. You just can’t fit everybody,” Region 1 Fishing Access Site Manager Tony Powell told the Inter Lake.

While the Somers launch leads the way, the other access points on the North Shore are just as busy. Sportsman’s Bridge saw the second-highest number of users in 2018 with 35,429 cars counted and Woods Bay came in third with 17,617.

These already busy sites are only going to get busier. It’s past time to take a serious look at acquiring additional public access points on the north shore of Flathead Lake to relieve some of the congestion.

The problem is, most of the shoreline is privately owned, and that land is expensive, with a capital E. According to Powell, FWP would blow its entire fishing access site acquisition budget — which comes mostly from the sale of fishing licenses — for a single access point on the lake.

Ultimately, it will require the Flathead delegation of state lawmakers to step up and make this happen financially by lobbying for additional FWP funding. FWP could save up and earmark those dollars to use when the right piece of property becomes available for the right price.

If you believe public access on Flathead Lake is important — and we think many of you do — let your local representatives know.

In the meantime, drivers passing through the tight highway corridor at Somers should slow down, and boaters should follow best practices at the ramp. FWP advises people to prepare their boat before launching, park in the right place, and once on the water, move away from the ramp.

A little patience and courtesy can go a long way, too.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2YOocb1

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Aug. 1, on electric scooters in Bozeman:

Local transportation is on the cusp of a new era. And it’s an era city officials should enter with caution.

An electric scooter service set up shop recently in Bozeman — probably the first city in the state with such a service. Blink Rides allows users — with the help of a smartphone app — to take an electric scooter between parking zones around downtown and other busy parts of the city. The new service is touted as a way to alleviate parking and traffic congestion and allow workers and visitors to get around busy commercial zones more easily.

While new to Montana, other states and cities have some experience with these types of services. And those experiences have been decidedly mixed. Injuries to novice riders have been reported along with vandalism. Scooters have been left randomly on streets and tossed into ditches. The purveyor of the Bozeman service is hoping those won’t be problems in the smaller Bozeman community where there is a certain sense of pride about appearances. Time will tell if that holds true.

So far, the Bozeman City Commission has not addressed the issue nor have commissioners voiced intentions to do so, opting instead to wait and see what unfolds as the scooters gain popularity. But this is something they will eventually need to get involved with.

Ordinances governing bicycles apply to the scooters and police are encouraged to enforce them. The scooters are prohibited on sidewalks and subject to the same traffic regulations that apply to cars. The scooters are programmed not to exceed 15 mph although, anecdotally, some observers have reported seeing them exceeding that limit.

There are some real benefits that could accrue from the success of electric scooters. It could help address the scarcity of parking downtown and help consumers visit more businesses in congested areas. But, if abused, they could also endanger pedestrians and users. And their use will be severely limited in winter weather — and that can be more than half the year.

The electric scooters could be a minor boon to the local economy. Or they could end up being a royal pain. City commissioners should get involved early and stay involved to ensure the latter doesn’t happen.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2ZCdgP6

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