Last month, the Ravalli County Commission heeded the demands of an outraged public. The commission convened a meeting to discuss its support for Sen. Steve Daines’ bill releasing 449,500 acres of wilderness study area in Montana. The crowd, roughly 200 strong, overwhelmed the commission’s chambers, necessitating a change to a larger venue. Their feedback, both written and verbal, was three-to-one against the bill. Still, the commissioners stood their ground.
Daines had smacked a nest of particularly ornery hornets. Now Rep. Greg Gianforte is taking his own turn with the stick. On March 1, the congressman introduced a companion bill to Daines’ Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act in the House. Apparently not content with releasing the five WSAs Daines singled out, Gianforte proposed the release of an additional 240,000 acres on 24 other WSAs.
Critics’ primary question is simple: where is the support for these releases? Daines and Gianforte have attempted to answer that by trotting out written blessings from county commissions like Ravalli’s. They’ve released statements from industry groups including the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and the Montana Stockgrowers Association. But rather than appease the conservationists and sportsmen and businesspeople who favor protecting the WSAs in question, these answers have only reinforced the belief that Daines and Gianforte are running roughshod over their constituency.
It hasn’t helped that the public continues to wonder when or if they’ll ever see their senator and congressman up close. Daines ran ahead of schedule during a four-day state tour in late February, prompting public accusations that his early exits were an attempt to duck critics. As for Gianforte, he filed for reelection the same day his WSA bills dropped, but seems perfectly comfortable connecting with voters via telephone town hall.
We have no delusions that Daines and Gianforte will suddenly respond to popular pressure and halt their attempt to, as they see it, free Montana’s WSAs from the paralysis of bureaucracy. It certainly didn’t play that way in Ravalli County. But if they’re going to wave off the concerns of so many citizens, they should at least do it in person. Isn’t that what accountability is all about?