The Montana State University-Billings Academic Senate unanimously passed a resolution on second reading Thursday opposing any use of a cabin located in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
Eleven of the 12 faculty senators were present to vote on the measure that also had passed without opposition on the first reading at the previous week's meeting.
Ownership of the cabin on Sioux Charley Lake about three miles inside the wilderness area had been transferred to MSU-Billings from former Montana Senate President Bruce Crippen.
The faculty resolution listed several reasons why the property shouldn't be used, including:
That using the cabin for educational purposes will damage the reputation of MSU-Billings because the transfer of the cabin is perceived as a direct attack on the Wilderness Act and legislation designating the Absaroka-Beartooth as wilderness.
That the transfer of the cabin from private to public ownership establishes a dangerous and potentially destructive precedent concerning structures in wilderness areas.
That the cost of using the cabin is prohibitive because it only can be reached by hiking three miles and the structure is only about 500 square feet in size.
That MSU-Billings already has use of an area on the West Fork of Rock Creek outside the wilderness.
The cabin was built by Crippen's grandfather at the lake decades before the area was designate wilderness in 1978. After the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness was created, the cabin, as well as two others nearby, were scheduled to be removed because they didn't conform to appropriate wilderness use.
Crippen fought the removal of the cabin and received an extension of his permit until the end of 1999 on the condition that the structure be removed before Dec. 31, 2000.
In 1999, the Montana Board of Regents approved of the transfer of the cabin from Crippen to MSU-Billings.
In December, Congress asked the U.S. Forest Service to issue a special-use permit to the university for 20 years with a review of its use after 10 years. Use was to be for educational purposes only.
Before the vote, faculty senators discussed whether they should delay the vote so that MSU-Billings chancellor Ron Sexton could speak on the issue with them.
Sexton had been notified that the cabin would again be discussed Thursday, but he was out of town on previously scheduled business.
Academic Senate president Sandra Rietz said that she had e-mailed her concerns about the issue to Sexton four weeks ago and had asked to talk with him about a solution, but she had not received a reply.
Sexton previously has supported the transfer of the cabin and its use by the university.
Sexton has been asked by the board of regents to discuss the cabin at its next meeting in May.
Keith Edgerton, faculty senator, and Rietz both said that they would welcome a discussion with Sexton about a solution to the problem.
Randall Gloege, a member of the faculty senate, expressed his concern that if the group didn't vote on the issue soon, national environmental groups might start to weigh in against MSU-Billings.
Scott Prinzing, field organizer for the Montana Wilderness Association who attended the meeting, said there was a concern that Sexton could send in the application for a special use permit anytime.
Prinzing later agreed that Sexton probably would delay any action on the permit until at least after the regents' meeting.
Senators also discussed what might be done with the cabin if the university decides not to use it in the future, including whether the university needed to get a special use permit even if the university wanted to remove the structure.
Prinzing thought that the university wouldn't need to have the permit to transfer it to the Forest Service, which might be willing to remove the cabin.
A proposal by a faculty member to have MSU-Billings students removed the cabin also was discussed.
The fate of at least one of the three Sioux Charley cabins has been decided. The Dayton cabin, whose use permit expired several years ago and long has been scheduled for removal, was burned April 4, said Rand Herzberg, Beartooth district ranger at Red Lodge.
The other cabin, the Pippin cabin, also is scheduled to be removed by the end of 2003.