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The Back Country Horsemen of Montana and Wyoming are steadfastly opposed to the elimination of most of the Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in our respective states as proposed in several pieces of legislation introduced by Montana Sen. Steve Daines, and Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney. These areas of more than a million acres represent some of the very best wildlands remaining in our states.

WSAs, such as West Pioneers and Blue Joint in Montana and the Ferris Mountains and Raymond Mountain in Wyoming, provide important habitat for many iconic fish and wildlife species, watershed protection and spectacular landscapes in our states. These areas provide outstanding recreational opportunities for our residents and the millions of visitors who visit each year and spend more than $11 billion annually. No one understands this better than the Back Country Horsemen, practical, conservation-minded men and women, who are out on the ground and know the score.

We agree it’s time to decide on how these areas should be managed for the long term. In Montana, we suggest the WSAs be looked at on a case-by-case basis and decisions made based on the merits of each area. In Wyoming, ongoing local review should not see interference by Congressional action.

Daines and Cheney have or are about to come forward with short-sighted bills to eliminate these magnificent areas with little involvement from the citizens of our states. In the case of Wyoming, local groups are already hard at work to develop management plans for many of these areas.

A recent survey showed that at least 80 percent of our residents consider themselves conservation minded and want to see our public lands protected and used wisely. Yet these elected officials argue that since Congress has not sought permanent protection for them for several decades, they should be eliminated.

While doubtful that Daines or Cheney have ever set foot on these “last best places” of our states, they doggedly pursue their heavy-handed land grab from far away Washington. Given our extensive on-the-ground experience with these places, we firmly believe they are worth protection. We call on these legislators to withdraw their bills, or at a minimum be open to amendments that would allow local input, and further, invite them to join us in touring these unmatched areas in the near future.

Montana and Wyoming deserve better leadership and more careful and thoughtful public land management than is being proposed by their bills.

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