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Know the West

Montanans still for environment

  Dear HCN,

I liked Ray Ring's recent article, "Bad moon rising," about environmental organizations in Montana (HCN, 12/17/01: Bad moon rising). It gave some of the history of how progressive coalitions achieved significant legislative results on issues important to Montanans. It should be noted that during those years, Montana's Legislature passed socially responsible statutes in several areas, addressing not only environmental concerns but also health and education issues.

Readers of the article should not be left thinking that environmental groups are solely to blame for the failure to form similar coalitions in today's political climate. The Montana Wilderness Association is a grassroots organization which has worked steadily over the years seeking to keep the door open to agriculture, business and labor groups. We have kept an open mind while identifying and working on issues that benefit all the people.

In the past decade and a half, the MWA has built working relationships with farmers, outfitters, loggers and hunters. We worked with loggers in the 1980s to help fashion the Kootenai Accords, and we sought common ground again in the 1990s to address logging and protection of roadless areas through the Flathead Forestry Project. When ranchers and farmers looked for help from a broad section of Montana culture with their "Campaign to Reclaim Rural America," our organization was there at the rallies showing support for rural communities.

We will continue to seek viable coalitions, but it is not easy. When we open the door and extend our hand, sometimes the other party is not there. They have already backed away while releasing a fog of anti-environmental rhetoric learned from the wise-use crowd. Working on common issues is less important to them than maintaining a confrontational stance. Although some farm and ranch groups may continue an anti-environmental posture, it will not prevent us from reaching out to individuals and ad hoc groups.

One last point: Mr. Ring said that Clinton created the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in a "blaze." Let us not forget that the proclamation occurred after 18 months of open, public debate in Montana about the monument designation and after years of advocacy by historians, river rats, conservationists and business people who wanted this public land protected.

Dennis Tighe
Great Falls, Montana

The writer is past president of the Montana Wilderness Association.