Guest opinion: Heritage Act would protect Montana wilderness

2014-01-07T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Heritage Act would protect Montana wildernessBy PAT TABOR
The Billings Gazette
January 07, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Wilderness replenishes our soul. Our eyes get a little brighter after a few days in the backcountry. Our stresses slide off like April snowmelt. Traveling to wild country can be a challenging journey, but it’s a journey that changes us for the better.

In Montana, we have some of the best of the last wild country. That’s no accident. One of the first wilderness areas protected as a result of the 1964 Wilderness Act was the Bob Marshall, affectionately referred to as the “Bob.”

It’s a place that Americans are forever guaranteed the freedom to explore.

50th anniversary

This year marks the 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act and designation of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. That’s a great cause for celebration. As leaders of the Professional Wilderness Outfitters Association we hope we will have a second reason for celebration in 2014 with the passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.

Baucus must act fast

With Max Baucus’ impending departure from public service for Montana, the clock is ticking on his role in expanding the legacy of the Bob through the Heritage Act. We encourage him to do everything in his power during his last weeks in office to get this done.

This is important because wilderness is a limited resource and it’s a livelihood for our membership base.

For generations, our members have worked to conserve Montana’s wilderness heritage and outdoor traditions with recognition and respect for the services that commercial outfitters provide to facilitate public land access and educate members of the public on the stewardship of public lands.

Our main job is to help connect our customers to these wild places — places far away from McDonald’s, cellphone networks and the hustle and bustle of our modern lives. As an organization, we have guided for politicians, executives of major corporations, and people who have saved their hard-earned money to take their family on a trip of a lifetime. Regardless of our clients’ backgrounds, our trips have fundamentally changed everyone who has ever spent significant time in the Bob Marshall. Wilderness is the great equalizer.

PWOA’s members have been involved in the development of the Heritage Act, and several changes were made to the original proposal to accommodate concerns raised by outfitting businesses.

We appreciate the careful, collaborative process used to create this legislation.

The proposed Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act is a common-sense approach that will help keep the Front the way it is for our kids and grandkids. It also provides a degree of certainty for our businesses and the tradition of wilderness outfitting.

Our senior senator has repeatedly pledged to bring this legislation to the finish line. In the event the clock runs out before Max can get this done, we look forward to working with Max’s successor and the entire Montana delegation in 2014. From the get-go this legislation brought different types of people together and we think it will naturally bring our future delegation together too.

Fifty years ago, true patriots for our country said that some places should be left as they are, and they passed a law to do just that. Now it’s our turn. Protecting the spectacular Rocky Mountain Front will be our generation’s gift to the next. We can only hope it will inspire a new generation of wilderness stewards as we look to pass the torch.

Pat Tabor, an outfitter in the Swan Valley of Montana, is the outgoing president of Professional Wilderness Outfitters Association. Dusty Crary, incoming PWOA president, outfits from Choteau along the Rocky Mountain Front.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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