As a citizen of Ravalli County, Montana, I have been fighting government intrusion and non-management of our public lands for 20 years. As a county commissioner I have been denied by USFS forest supervisors and rangers the right provided by the 1976 Federal Land Policy Management Act, the ESA and NEPA to coordinate our county’s interests whenever forest management actions are being considered. The results of this denial has placed our county in a non-stop emergency status due to either the forest overload of material which has led to 765,000 acres of the Bitterroot National Forest to burn since 2000. That is 47% of the total 1.6 million acres making up our forest. Ironically, 50% of our forest is Wilderness. Fire does not respect those boundary lines and it is the Wilderness that fuels the catastrophic fires and sends the roaring storms of fire into the National Forests and private lands.
Due to the nature of the fires which create their own weather events and winds of over 200 miles per hour, the soils are often sterilized, thus we have little or no ground cover to hold our snow load during spring melt off. This results in flooding and mudslides. One event this early spring has done what could go as high as a half million dollars in damage to our county roads. We still have two months of potential flood events on the horizon. We have had fire cross on to private lands, homes burned and outbuildings lost along with livestock from Lolo to Sula within the past 14 years. How many endangered species have burned? Smoke from wilderness fires fill our western valleys with choking smoke every summer and the papers warn of the long term heath threats.
Our county has less than 20% of the acres within it available for private development and management. The net result is an impoverished citizenry, a low tax base from which the local government must provide for the health, safety and welfare of our 40,000 plus citizens spread over 1.2 million acres. What makes this hard to swallow is that 40 years ago Montana was 10th in the nation for per capita income and our county was one of the most financially strong in the state. The community that led per capita income in our county back then has four seniors graduating this year from high school.
I have been working with county commissioners, state and congressional leadership from the western region to study the Transfer of Public Lands along with any and all alternatives anyone can come up with. What we have now is broken. The political nature of our BLM and USFS has polluted the relationships between those D.C. decision makers and our citizens and local governments. We have been told very firmly that the county does not have standing nor are we correct in our expectations for coordination.
We need state and local management of our public lands before they are sold off to pay federal debt or have 100% burn. The citizens of the United States have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to supporting the Neo-environmental movement. Bambi is being murdered by fire, by wolves and by a political agenda that is all about power and control and little to do with keeping our forests green, our water clean, our air pure or our endangered species protected.
None of this is by accident. Rural Americans “cling to their guns and religion” and are an independent bunch. You don’t go out to help your cows calve in subzero weather, put up hay in 100 degree plus temps or risk your life felling timber from a helicopter unless you have those values. Rural America is a threat to the Progressive Socialist mindset and we are being eliminated one rancher, one logger, one farmer at a time. That is why we are all rallying behind Ken Ivory and the movement to have the same equal rights and sovereignty as our fellow states to the east. This is not a political party issue as our own Governor has twice challenged the lack of management of our federally controlled forests.
Ravalli County Commissioner