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Justin Schaaf

JUSTIN SCHAAF

The Lewistown Resource Management Plan covers 650,000 acres of our public lands, from the Missouri Breaks all the way to the Rocky Mountain Front. In writing the original plan, the local Lewistown Bureau of Land Management office met with the different stakeholders over a period of a couple years, giving everyone involved a voice with a well reasoned plan for management into the future. The agency’s draft plan was sent to D.C. in 2016 with the hope our voices would be heard.

Since that time we have seen the worst kind of politics; D.C. insiders took over the process and have largely ignored the Montana voices that spent years working on the draft and have their boots on the ground of this land daily. The plan the Swamp Rats sent back to Montana would eliminate the draft that received ample support in order to appease short-sighted special interests who don’t care about your hunting camps or ATV trails, or your grazing allotment when there’s a quick buck to be made. This is the same habitat that supports some of the healthiest big game herds in North America and vitally important sage-grouse core areas. As other states struggle to manage their sage grouse populations, Montana has risen to the top of the pack. This plan ensures that a listing of the bird would be easier than if the D.C. beltway crowd had simply left well enough alone, and gone with the original draft.

Central Montana has a thriving outdoor economy because of these lands and thriving big game herds. Fergus and Petroleum counties boast a $4 million local economy solely off of big game hunting. Failing to conserve these areas will no doubt have a negative effect on the outdoor recreation economy we rely on.

The BLM’s original plan stressed how important places like Chain Buttes, Horse Camp Trail, and Dovetail Creek are to locals, as well as incredible places like Deep Creek, Blind Horse, Chute Mountain, Ear Mountain, and Battle Creek.

Washington, D.C., decided that these places were unworthy of protections without even so much as an explanation. We were optimistic that the plan would include Backcountry Conservation Areas in areas like Crooked Creek, Cemetery Road and Arrow Creek. BCAs would keep these wild and intact places and provide for high quality wildlife dependent recreation such as hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife watching.

These areas have provided memories no one can put a price on. For me, it was hearing my first elk bugle in the Chain Buttes area of the Breaks, or the bewilderment of not being the king of the mountain after seeing fresh grizzly bear tracks in the snow outside my tent one morning on the Rocky Mountain Front.

I hope to bring my children into these public lands so they can have their own life changing experiences and see just how valuable they are to the lifestyle we live here in Montana. This shortsighted management plan puts those experiences at a great risk. It is a risk I believe is too great to leave in the hands of decision makers who have never stepped foot on these lands.

It is time for Washington, D.C., to abandon these shady backroom deals and listen to the dedicated employees at the Bureau of Land Management and the locals who spent years working towards a comprehensive plan. This is a slap in the face to all of the local hunters, ranchers, business owners and other stakeholders who were involved throughout the process.

The Lewistown Resource Management Plan draft is open for public comment until Aug. 15. It is in the best interest of all Montanans and residents throughout the West to comment on this draft that is a prime example of the destruction of the land use decision process and erodes our faith in the management of our public lands.

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Justin Schaaf, of Fort Peck, is a hunter and conservationist.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.