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Governors should not be in charge of public lands

I don’t want Judy Martz making critical decisions about my land. I don’t want any governor, not Idaho’s Kempthorne, New Mexico’s Richardson or any of the others deciding the fate of land I own.

The Bush administration has authored a proposal that will, for the first time in American history, empower individual governors with the authority to formally propose roading and development into our wildest publicly owned lands. You and I own 60 million acres of pristine roadless lands with 97 percent of it here in 12 western states. They comprise the headwaters of our great national river systems, our calving grounds and wildlife corridors. They are our fishing holes and hunting grounds. They have become our cash registers as well as our scenic wonderlands. And make no mistake, we westerners do not want these lands roaded, blasted, or drilled.

For four years the Bush administration has made no secret of its support for building roads into our remaining wild places. Some have proposed that more than half of these wild lands should be roaded. Most of our forests are already webbed with roads, which, stretched end-to-end, would reach from the earth, past the moon, continuing into space an additional 200,000 miles. Outside of our congressionally designated Wilderness areas our forests have 1.5 miles of roads per square mile of land. We taxpayers paid as much as $100,000 for each mile of those roads and we are now shackled with an $8 billion backlog to maintain them.

Governors are not responsible for picking up that tab, we are. It’s federal taxpayers, not state dollars that pay for these Forest Service logging roads and it is terrible policy to empower any governor with authority over a matter for which they have no responsibility.

People throughout the West and the nation have expressed our desire time and again to keep our wild lands roadless. From 1996 through 1999, 1.6 million people commented at 600 meetings in the most extensive public process ever. More than 90 percent supported keeping our roadless lands wild. In Montana alone 17,429 people participated in 34 public meetings. Those Montanans and, according to polls, people throughout America and the West overwhelmingly oppose building new roads into the wild country.

Should people at the local level have a say in the way our public lands are managed? Of course we should. And we do. For 40 years, through hearings, meetings, local environmental reviews, assessments, and evaluations, locals have made our desires known. That process has become incredibly time-consuming for our federal employees, confusing and burdensome for everyone involved, and it doesn’t genuinely tap local land management expertise. We need a better way to ensure a process of decision making that will help all of us recapture a confident sense of shared values. What we reject is any process that provides podiums for election year political posturing, furthers division among us, creates even more litigation, and almost certainly assures that roads and development will be punched into what is left of our green and flourishing national estate.

Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at The University of Montana where he also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West.

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Rep. Pat Williams Rep. Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at the University of Montana where he also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West and is Northern Director of Western Progress.

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Montana, public lands, Governor Judy Martz, roadless area

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