Opinion: Pearl Jam, talk to Tester about public lands

Salmon

U.S. Forest Service

Big Salmon Lake, Bob Marshall Wilderness.

“The preservation of a few samples of undeveloped territory is one of the most clamant issues before us today. Just a few more years of hesitation and the only trace of that wilderness which has exerted such a fundamental influence in molding American character will lie in the musty pages of pioneer books. … To avoid this catastrophe demands immediate action.”

— Robert “Bob” Marshall, co-founder, The Wilderness Society

 

The Seattle-based rock band Pearl Jam is set to embark on a tour later this summer, which will include seven stadium shows across the United States, with a stopover in Missoula. The band’s gig in my home state will in part serve as a fundraiser for the re-election campaign of Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

I’ve long admired Pearl Jam’s activism. The band’s Vitalogy Foundation was set up to help small nonprofit groups around the country, and they’ve followed through, donating millions of dollars over the years.

Eddie Vedder was an early advocate of the freeing the West Memphis Three; he’s also outspoken about various environmental issues, and much more.

Jeff Ament, who grew up in Tester’s hometown of Big Sandy, has built over a dozen skate parks in underserved rural areas of Montana and South Dakota, including parks in Wounded Knee and Pine Ridge. Ament also serves as an advisor to The Buffalo Field Campaign, one of my favorites.

Stone Gossard supports outfits fighting for the recovery of wild salmon. He works on Seattle homelessness issues, arts campaigns and more.

Mike McCready pours money into on organizations working on foster care and raises awareness and backs research on Crohn’s disease.

Matt Cameron supports antiwar causes and groups fighting mass incarceration.

No doubt Pearl Jam walks the walk. That’s why I hope they’ll help put pressure on Sen. Tester to stop playing politics with Montana’s public lands.

Despite the rhetoric that Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project would protect 80,000 acres of Montana wilderness — where there are roads there’s no wilderness, and Tester’s bill would cut the roadless acres in the Monture area of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in half.

Tester’s monstrous bill would set up two recreational playpens in the center of Monture, a 3,800-acre mountain biking area and another 3,000 acres for snowmobiles.  Currently, neither activity is allowed in this roadless area. If passed, Tester’s bill would change all of that.

Indeed, it was road development across the West that sparked the modern-day environmental movement. The great Bob Marshall was one of the first to speak out against roads in wilderness areas. Now, Tester wants to allow roads in Bob Marshall’s namesake wilderness preserve.

The glory of “The Bob” is that engines and mountain biking are not allowed. Want to enter the nearly 1,600-square-mile wilderness area? Grab your hiking boots, backpack (and bear spray) and get going. If you’re lucky, hit the trail with your pony. You can’t drive in The Bob. You can’t bike in and you certainly can’t slide your way in on a gas-guzzling snowmobile. As the saying goes, the speed of wilderness shouldn’t exceed 3 miles an hour. No question that allowing motorized transportation and mountain biking in this pristine area of the Monture would negatively impact its wildlife and serenity.

The Monture area of The Bob is a haven for elk, endangered lynx, bull trout, cutthroat, gray wolves, moose, grizzlies and more. For those of us who care about the recovery of the grizzly bear, Monture is a vital place, as it sits smack dab in the middle of the primary conservation area for the mighty bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Allowing snowmobiles and mountain bikes in grizzly territory would negatively impact any recovery efforts. Interactions with mountain bikes and grizzlies far exceed those of grizzlies and hikers.

It’s their land, let’s keep it that way.

Tester’s bill wouldn’t just allow The Bob to be impacted by bikes and snowmobiles, it would also allow most logging in the Lolo National Forest to skirt public oversight. Any tree cutting under 3,000 acres would not have to adhere to a full environmental review, nor would the public have any right to protest these sales. That means if Montanans and others have a problem with a proposed logging of 2,999 acres of public forest in Lolo, we couldn’t stop it from happening for environmental reasons. No matter what.

Apparently, Tester doesn’t seem to understand that we need more forest, not less. He doesn’t seem to get that we need more environmental regulations, not fewer.

Tester’s bill isn’t a reasonable compromise as it’s being sold by proponents. It’s a racket, full of loopholes and sellouts. If Tester really gave a shit about Montana and its wilderness, he’d instead be working hard to support the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act. He’d start listening to the folks at the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. It’s the greatest hope grizzly bears have if they are to survive the impacts of climate change, and it’s the only legislative chance that will keep Montana “The Last Best Place.”

So Pearl Jam, can you help us pressure Sen. Tester to abandon the fatally flawed Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project? Your fundraiser ought to be contingent upon it.

Let’s protect The Bob Marshall Wilderness, not chisel away at it, and let’s ensure that we always have a say in what happens on our precious public lands.

Joshua Frank, a native of Billings, is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is “Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion,” co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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