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Montana's Three Amigos Are Stars In Trump's Radical Anti-Environmental Agenda

As The 2018 Outdoor Retailer Show Opens In Denver, Tim Crawford Warns Against Giving Away Federal Lands, Starving Agencies And Gutting Landmark Laws

 Steve Daines, Ryan Zinke and Greg Gianforte
Steve Daines, Ryan Zinke and Greg Gianforte
This month the international Outdoor Retailer winter trade show opens in Denver after a long run in Salt Lake City where, collectively over the years, it brought hundreds of millions of dollars—if not billions—in commercial activity to the Utah economy.  


But last year event organizers decided to pull stakes and move to the Colorado Rockies in protest of Utah's overt anti-environment political climate that seems to be deepening in The Beehive State, punctuated most recently by President Donald Trump's decision to radically shrink back the size of two national monuments in the state. The effort was led by such well-respected companies as Patagonia, North Face, Polartec and Black Diamond. (Read this op-ed by Black Diamond founder Peter Metcalf).

In Montana, outdoor recreation has an enormous presence and it is, in a way, democratically encompassing in the sense that we can all do it—and can do it on public land. This is certainly true throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and surrounding Rocky Mountain states.

The national Outdoor Industry Association reckons recreation to be Montana’s largest economic sector and, in contrast to say, the number of jobs created via coal mining, forestry, and agriculture, which are in decline (in part due to technology such as robots and artificial intelligence making human labor obsolete) employment generated via recreation is growing.

In the area encompassing the country north of Yellowstone National Park, my home terrain, recreation is certainly paramount, with Bozeman presiding as the regional capital of nature-oriented commerce. It seems as though everyone here identifies as a hiker, angler, wildlife watcher, mountain or dirt biker, hunter, mountaineer, mushroom picker, snowmobiler, horseperson, or combination. Many of us personally know either a purveyor of outdoor recreation products or those involved with outfitting and guiding. 

Stores catering to these activities, including those selling general merchandise and guns, rank with the most common buildings found in many thriving Western towns, besides, of course, bars and churches.  This is because the availability of public lands and access to them has enormous appeal to mobile Americans and entrepreneurs looking for forward-thinking places to do business.

Rallies against the transfer of public land have drawn large numbers of people, exhibiting near religious zeal possibly far outnumbering any local non-sectarian gatherings. So undeniable are the numbers of citizens standing in opposition that most of our elected officials adamantly avow against the transfer of public land we own—or at least they claim they are opposed to any obvious direct transference. 

The heritage of public land ownership is not and should not be an ideologically partisan issue which divides us, as there have been, for example, two presidential Roosevelts, each from a different party, who believed in the welcoming principles of public lands and fought against both their robber baron exploitation and/or privatization.
The heritage of public land ownership is not and should not be an ideologically partisan issue which divides us, as there have been, for example, two presidential Roosevelts, each from a different party, who believed in the welcoming principles of public lands and fought against both their robber baron exploitation and/or privatization.
Yet at our peril when we arrive at the voting booth, we often forget that one of the major planks officially adopted by the Republican Party in 2016 was the transfer of federal publicly-owned lands to state ownership—integral pieces of the West that are the common inheritance of all Americans and what we always assumed we would bequeath intact to future generations.

The real question is why aren’t elected GOP representatives more outspoken in challenging the national plank of their own party? And equally troublesome, why are Democrats so seemingly mute? 

Attacks on our public lands, serious as they are, aren’t the only menace to our heritage. 

There is simultaneously a quiet, ongoing attempt to defund federal agencies entrusted with managing our federal public lands according to scientific principles and mandated public involvement by citizens. I will state for the record here that some, quite-obviously, poorly-managed lands do need some tending and they are in desperate need of adequate human resources.

Still, if you accept that the GOP’s national plank is legitimate, why not transfer all federal lands to the Western states where we live? Why not follow Utah’s notorious example where it has moved to aggressively divest some of its state tracts to private individuals or crony interests who possess insider connections? 

The reason is that pesky facts get in the way and they bear repeating over and over and over again until those advocating for public land divestment get it.  Divesting federal public land is not only a threat to our Western identity but it would be a devastating mistake for taxpayers.

States do not have the fiscal ability to, for example, fight wildfires, let alone deliver management services that are up to the standards the public demands, expects and deserves. Thus, the states, once getting their hands on federal public lands, would immediately invoke the excuse of them being economically burdensome and then move to sell them off. 

Many citizens now believe that this may, in fact, be part of the Trump Administration’s backroom strategy and that serving as accomplices are Montana’s three amigos—U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte of Bozeman and former Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, who is the Interior Secretary.

These four powerhouse manufacturers of outdoor clothing and products led a boycott of the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. And they supported the decision to move the lucrative event to Denver this year.
These four powerhouse manufacturers of outdoor clothing and products led a boycott of the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. And they supported the decision to move the lucrative event to Denver this year.

All happen to be Republicans. Were the schemes of the national GOP radicals allowed to play out, we would return to the time of Old World feudalism or, worse, resemble the Republic of Texas where big tracts on which recreation occurs and public wildlife live are instead privately owned. 

Citizens can’t just show up at a trailhead and walk free forever as they can on national forests. Across the majority of privately-owned Texas, they have to pay to play; often they are unable to access the state’s most inspiring landscapes and they don't have a say in demanding that such lands be vigorously protected from, say, blighting and environmentally-hazardous oil and gas development.

If the radical free marketers descended from the era of Interior Secretary James Watt succeed, we will be left with a West where only the rich hold sway. Family farmers and ranchers, who enjoy generous federal subsidies—this ironically includes the Cliven Bundy family—to use federal public lands, will also be big losers according to rules of the free market.  If you happen to be a person who condemns federal government overlords setting public land policy, imagine a New West dominated by plutocrats who answer only to themselves.

What’s happening, however, can’t be pinned solely on the GOP, though the level of public distrust it is rapidly accruing is justly deserved.
If the radical free marketers descended from the era of Interior Secretary James Watt succeed, we will be left with a West where only the rich hold sway. Family farmers and ranchers, who enjoy generous federal subsidies—this ironically includes the Bundy family—to use federal public lands, will also be big losers according to rules of the free market.
The current minority party—the Democrats— and some of our non-governmental conservation organizations have sadly been compliant through their quiescence; some would actually call it acquiescence as their attempts to promote "collaboration" and "consensus" have only emboldened those trying to give federal public land away or diminish the last wild places. 

Some of the green and hunting groups, which used to be loud, boisterous and wield power in defending public lands, have become agents of appeasement, some testifying on Zinke's behalf at his nomination to become Interior Secretary. One of those groups was the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which seems to have changed its tune

Many people have serious concerns about the backbone of the American environmental/conservation movement. Equally puzzling is why aren’t more Western Democrats (including elected state representatives from Bozeman) and non-governmental conservation organizations up in arms over proposals by Sen. Daines to eliminate the longstanding protections of wilderness study areas?  I could name the names of some of the groups who seem to have lost their way but will refrain.
 
° ° °
Contrary to the arguments of radicals in the GOP that “local control”—read corporate and crony special interests—would best protect lands, most Montanans see through this. We, and those in other states who love our federal public lands, understand why wildness elevates the caliber of lifestyle in our region, and poll after poll proves it.

Again, I would assert that, as a candidate, one can be a progressive Democrat or conservative Republican and win votes by being a protector of lands Westerners hold dear.  In fact, conservation is, and always will be, a fiscally-conservative position that delivers big dividends over time.

But party affiliation, particularly politicians who are doing the bidding for President Donald Trump’s unprecedented radical agenda, cannot be ignored. If you've noticed,  I am using the word "radical" often because that's what it is.
 Crawford says Sen. Daines, Rep. Gianforte and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have promoted simplistic fixes to address the wildlife threat—logging forests—while the science is much more complicated and includes the growing influence of climate of change.  The GOP, he says, is quicky distinguishing itself in the 21st century as the anti-science party.  Photo:  "Elk Bath" by John McColgan
Crawford says Sen. Daines, Rep. Gianforte and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have promoted simplistic fixes to address the wildlife threat—logging forests—while the science is much more complicated and includes the growing influence of climate of change. The GOP, he says, is quicky distinguishing itself in the 21st century as the anti-science party. Photo: "Elk Bath" by John McColgan
Where it’s most obvious is the refusal of Trump and his Three Montana Amigos to heed the science of climate change which establishes the burning of coal as a major problem. Our forests are drying out and burning because of climate change and fires are getting bigger.

Currently, Montana's threesome of Daines, Gianforte and Zinke are all calling for “better forest management” in order to allegedly forestall or prevent cataclysmic fires such as those as experienced this past summer.

Who, you may ask, is in favor of cataclysmic fires? No one, of course, but we are not going to log our way to forest health when warming temperatures are the root cause of the fire problem. We need to do all we can to try to counteract, or at least slow down, the rising thermostat.  The GOP is revealing itself every day to be the anti-science party.

To legitimize their simplistic, non-ecologically-informed claims about wildfire, blame is heaped upon those old favorite boogie men— “environmentalists”— but who is being radical and who has done more to keep our public lands healthy not only for wildlife but attractive to longtime residents, newcomers, and job creators who value them?

Those fearsome folk—science-heeding conservationists—are blamed for allegedly disabling the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management’s ability to manage fire-prone land through lawsuits, which isn't true. Underfunding of these agencies is never mentioned nor the fact that roughly half of the Forest Service’s $6 billion budget is now spent defending people’s homes, homes that are often poorly placed in areas that are likely to burn.
Blame is heaped upon those old favorite boogie men— “environmentalists” — but who is being radical and who has done more to keep our public lands healthy not only for wildlife but attractive to longtime residents, newcomers, and job creators who value them?
Sen. Daines, Rep. Gianforte and Interior Secretary Zinke claim their “better forms of management” are based on science, but these assertions fall into the same category of President Trump’s alternative facts.  Moreover, why is it that Daines and Gianforte refuse to hold real town hall meetings with constituents?  Because they know they would be challenged on these claims.

Recently, Congressman Gianforte introduced a bill in Congress (identical to one introduced by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in spring 2017) to stop hardrock mining from occurring at the foot of Emigrant Peak near Chico Hot Springs in Paradise Valley, Montana just north of Yellowstone. But don't be deceived.  

Most of Gianforte's voting record on environmental issues has, to date, been abysmal. He supports radical moves to weaken the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and he, despite being a self-proclaimed technology guru, can't seem to get his mind wrapped around the science of climate change. 

His positions are identical to Daines'; however, Daines intimated that he wouldn't necessarily support the Tester or Gianforte bills halting mining in Paradise Valley unless they were tied to the release of hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness study areas, earning him a scathing rebuke from the Livingston Enterprise newspaper.

You would think Gianforte and Daines would be scientifically literate since they are supposedly "new economy" kind of guys. But their denial about the cause of bigger forest fires, reflected by almost all Republican politicians in the West, comes from vision impaired by a head-in-the-sand refusal to recognize anthropogenic-caused increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.  This myopia is a result of those whose campaigns are funded by companies deriving profits from fossil fuels.

Strangely, they ignore the truth that in terms of job creation nationally, renewables (solar and wind) are fast outpacing coal. 

Because of this, fossil fuel cowboys greatly fear a lessening of current and future growth of their industries. Coal is on its way out and market forces such as a glut of natural gas, not environmentalists, are to blame.

Recognition of the dangers inherent in the consumption, let alone expansion, of dirty fossil fuels by policy makers in Washington is battled by industry with a large army of lobbyists fomenting disinformation. 

° ° °

We are living in perilous times.

Those pressing for divestment of federal public land and weakening of environmental laws take glee in seeing the conservation movement at war with itself. Ironically, some conservation groups have forged alliances with recreation user groups that are working with radical GOP lawmakers to weaken the Wilderness Act and dissolve wilderness study areas.  Such groups need to be called out.

Finally, it is more vital than ever before that we keep a careful watch on the federal budget process. Congress just gave a large tax cut to corporations and the ruling class but temper your euphoria until you realize where the burden of growing the debt will come due. 

Nothing is free and if the prospects weren’t so grim, it would actually be humorous to point out the hypocrisy of Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte—two wealthy gentlemen who benefitted their own bottom lines and those of their cronies by voting for tax relief and who previously railed against the exploding national debt.

All of this has a connection to public lands. One outcome of the tax cut is that Congress has voted to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling to pay for the handout.  

Don’t be surprised if, soon, the GOP also steps up its push to divest public lands to states as an alleged ruse to attack a ballooning debt it created.

The old trick of “starving the beast” (government agencies) is sure to also involve the stripping down of those agencies—unless they serve more fossil fuel development— and weakening of regulations those agencies used to protect the environment.

After the diminution of two national monuments in Utah, and given the paucity of budget allocations, what will be next, our national parks?

Public lands are a cornerstone of our democracy.  Theodore Roosevelt understood this. They exist for sustainable use and enjoyment of all without discrimination.  They are places where we can re-create ourselves to be a better nation.

Now more than ever it is up to the owners of these lands—that’s us— to exercise the necessary action to prevent a politically monetized system from ceding our land to interests inimical to our national well-being.



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Tim Crawford
About Tim Crawford

Tim Crawford is a downtown Bozeman businessman, a Gallatin Valley farmer, a professional photographer and a lifelong conservationist, hunter, angler and gun owner.
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