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Two years ago, three former chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service asked Montana’s congressional delegation to support a local Montana effort aimed at protecting the Rocky Mountain Front. This is the first time that three former leaders of the Forest Service put their collective weight behind a collaborative process that would help manage a national forest. At the time they called it “the right prescription for the right place at the right time.”

A year later, Sen. Max Baucus was impressed enough with this citizen-led initiative that he introduced the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. In so doing, he also recognized the outstanding natural and cultural values of the Front and committed to protecting them for the use and enjoyment of generations to come.

In addition to the three chiefs of the Forest Service and three former Montana Bureau of Land Management directors, five former Lewis and Clark National Forest supervisors have endorsed the RMFHA. Together these land managers had 38 years of line officer experience spanning nine administrations dating back to President Lyndon Johnson.

We support the Heritage Act because, based upon our experience, it offers the best way to protect the wildlife, clean water, outstanding natural scenery, and cultural heritage of the Front is to develop a balanced plan. The Heritage Act meets these criteria by providing the Forest Service with the management flexibility to fight fire, harvest trees, and provide for motorized and nonmotorized recreation while defining a clear mandate to protect native habitat and opportunities for traditional backcountry experiences on foot and horseback.

Citizen-based collaborative problem-solving is a relatively new phenomenon for management of our national forests. Thankfully, the Heritage Act was developed using an exemplary collaboration that encouraged broad and meaningful public participation.

The Heritage Act, a sensible and balanced proposal put forth by the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, was developed by ranchers, conservationists and others who live in and around the Front. Hunters support the Heritage Act because it assures access to their favorite game areas and protects habitat for thriving wildlife populations. Motorized recreation users support it because it doesn’t close a single mile of roads or trails currently open for their use. Conservationists back it because it is a comprehensive plan that includes wilderness. Ranchers back it because it maintains their grazing privileges while helping to fight noxious weeds across all ownerships.

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For these reasons, we wholeheartedly support this bill and urge the delegation to work to secure its speedy passage. This is the right prescription for the right place at the right time.

By enacting the Rocky Mountain Heritage Act, Congress will be laying down a solid framework for the careful conservation of the multiple resources and values of this extraordinary landscape. We endorse both the hard work that’s gone into crafting the Heritage Act and the final product itself.

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Former Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisors Spike Thompson (2004-2011); Rick Prausa (1999-2003); and Gloria Flora (1995-1998) wrote this opinion.

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