3 ex-forest chiefs back Rocky Mountain land plan

Matt Volz
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

HELENA, Mont. – Three former chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service are asking Montana’s congressional delegation to protect the Rocky Mountain Front, a plea they say marks the first time they have united to urge passage of a land measure.

The request was made in a letter, sent earlier this month, that urges the delegation to “take a leadership role in the passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.”

It was signed by Dale Bosworth, Forest Service chief from 2001-2007; Michael Dombeck, the agency’s chief from 1997-2001; and Jack Ward Thomas, who headed the Forest Service from 1993-1996.

The Rocky Mountain Heritage Act is proposed legislation written last year by wilderness advocates, farmers, ranchers and others living where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains between East Glacier and Lincoln.

“It’s sort of a special place. A wide variety of people have been working together for a long time and I think they’ve done an outstanding job,” Bosworth said Tuesday. “But if they never see any outcome, they have to question of why they spent so much time together pounding something out.”

The act aims to preserve existing uses for the land, like grazing or outfitting, while protecting species in the area. It would designate six new wilderness areas and create a large management area that would protect the land but still allow some timber cutting and use by livestock.

It also includes a provision to fight noxious weeds over hundreds of thousands of acres.

Bosworth said the three former chiefs signed the letter because they believe the time is right for Montana’s congressional delegation to promote the proposal, especially if an omnibus land bill is introduced next year.

In the past, the former Forest Service chiefs have signed a letter promoting fire protection, but this is the first time the three have gotten together to urge passage of a particular land management plan, he said.

“I have believed in collaboration as a solution for land management use for a long time,” Bosworth said. “I guess we’re really looking for some leadership on this.”

The three members of the Montana delegation weren’t ready to commit on Tuesday to introducing or supporting the proposed Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Sen. Jon Tester is pushing for passage of a separate wilderness and logging bill he introduced last year, and his office said that proposal takes priority.

“Jon appreciates the perspective and admires the collaborative efforts to protect the Rocky Mountain Front. But he looks forward to first passing his Made-in-Montana bill to create jobs and new recreation areas, and better manage Montana’s forests,” spokesman Aaron Murphy said.

Sen. Max Baucus’ office didn’t address the plea by the three former Forest Service chiefs. Instead, a spokeswoman said the Montana Democrat welcomed the letter and “wants to hear from all Montanans on how to protect our outdoor heritage along the Front.”

Rep. Denny Rehberg’s office also declined to specifically address the proposal, but said it should not be rushed through the legislative process.

Montana Republican “opposes putting legislative convenience ahead of the thorough, transparent and public process that Montanans deserve on this issue,” spokesman Jed Link said.