Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act Misses on Weeds and Wilderness
A coalition claims it wants to protect Montana’s Rockies by supporting the proposed Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, but is it a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
By George Wuerthner, 8-21-11
The Coalition to Protect the Front supports the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act as a means of “protecting the Front”. It justifies the legislation by the “threat” noxious weeds make to the native plant communities of this magnificent landscape. Weeds, by displacing native plants, reduce the carrying capacity of the Front for native wildlife—which everyone agrees is one of the special attributes of the Front.
Unfortunately, the Heritage Act only proposes a paltry 67,000 acres as wilderness. While any new wilderness on the Front is welcome, the Heritage Act misses an important opportunity to protect the bulk of the wildlands that exist here, including the Badger Two Medicine and other important roadless lands.
Indeed, on its web page, the Coalition describes the threat of more wilderness as one of the reasons for supporting the plan. So to prevent the “threat” of wilderness, locals want to designate the majority of land along the Front as “Conservation Management Areas.” What a misnomer that name is.
Conservation Management would permit logging, livestock grazing and motorized use in some areas. All of these activities have been recognized time and again as destructive to native ecosystems, and biodiversity and ironically all are among the major sources for the spread of weeds.
Yet the participants supporting the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act either do not know, or more likely, have agreed to ignore the well-documented role that logging, motorized use, and most especially livestock grazing have in the spread of weeds and for creation of the disturbed soil habitat that favors weed establishment to garner support from these constituencies.
It’s like a coalition made up of tobacco companies agreeing that lung cancer is a serious threat to American health without mentioning that cigarette smoking is a major contributor to that cancer.
Instead of dealing directly with the cause of weed spread, the Coalition wants to treat the symptoms. It’s analogous to promoting cigarette smoking while advocating for more hospitals to treat cancer victims. This never works, and will only result in more weeds, and greater tax payer subsidies of these industries and activities.
The best way to slow and prevent the spread of weeds is to eliminate motorized access, logging, and cattle grazing. Designation of wilderness is by far the best solution (other than it unfortunately allows cattle grazing to continue—thus guarantees more weed spread).
If people are truly concerned about the spread of weeds, then we need to recognize that livestock (also an exotic species that displaces native species) grazing, motorized use and logging are incompatible with that goal. And the silence on this issue by the Coalition to Save the Front makes them all the more culpable in the spread of these unwanted plants.
What makes the Heritage Act even more disappointing is that the Rocky Mountain Front wildlands received some of the highest wilderness quality ratings of all federal lands outside of Alaska during the RARE11 (Roadless Area Review Evaluation) in the 1970s. These are among the best wildlands left in the lower 48 states, and to allow a small group of self appointed local folks to degrade wildlands values that belong to all Americans by allowing continued logging, motorized use, and livestock grazing is an affront to Americans and future generations.
The best way to save the Heritage of the Front is to eliminate these degrading uses and designate all the remaining roadless areas as wilderness. The Coaliton to Protect the Front Heritage Act is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing designated to permanently protect activities known to degrade and destroy public values.
George Wuerthner is an ecologist, former government botanist, and author of 35 books.