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Crafting a crafty coalition

Here’s what Montana needs, another coalition. I’m beginning to feel left out for not having a coalition. It seems that in Montana, if you feel you have been wronged, the first thing to do is form a coalition. The state just gained another multiple use/wise use coalition, the Coalition for Common Sense Use. Not a very imaginative name, but maybe all the good ones were taken. The new coalition joins many other Wise Use organizations like Montanans for Multiple Use, Citizens for Balanced Use and United Property Owners in whining about developers being locked out of public lands.

The immediate goal of the new coalition is to raise money to pay legal expenses for a group suing the Forest Service over their new travel plan for the Badger-Two Medicine area. In October, the new plan banned motorized access on 186 miles of trails in the Badger-Two Medicine to protect wildlife habitat and Indian cultural areas. The BTM covers 130,000 acres along the Rocky Mountain Front adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation. The Blackfeet see the area as a sacred place with culturally important values and fully support the motorized restrictions. In 2006, a bill drafted by Max Baucus made permanent a ban on new oil and gas leases which led to oil and gas companies abandoning drilling in the area. There are over 700 miles of trails open to motorized use in the Lewis and Clark Forest, but that’s just not good enough for everybody. Another coalition has proposed the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act which would add 393,000 acres to existing wilderness along the front. Polling found that 69% of Montanans favor these protections with only 21% opposed.

Spokesman for the Coalition for Common Sense Use is Rep. Llew Jones (R) of Conrad. Jones enjoys spending his time in the Legislature finding ways to weaken the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and limiting the effects of EIS decisions so, I don’t think we really need to go further into philosophical agenda of this new group. Their first meeting kicks off in Conrad today. The group will be addressed by Bruce Vincent, a conservative motivational speaker and organizer from Libby. According to the news coverage, “harsh tactics, such as cutting down fences to access closed land, are not being promoted, but rather ‘using common sense as opposed to closing it up,'” Kudos to the group for eschewing such tactics, unlike many of their kindred groups. The group will organize for what they see as “appropriate use” of public lands and to “promote responsible motorized use on federal and state lands“. “Long term, the group plans to be vocal in presenting the arguments for multiple use, with people who enjoy different kinds of travel setting aside what Jones called petty differences.” Each member of the Board of Directors will be “required” to submit at least one editorial on multiple use to newspapers each year.

While I disagree with the goals of the Coalition, I am impressed with the ways in which they intend to organize to further their agenda. Many groups on the other side of these issues could gain a valuable lesson from from the grassroots tactics of some of these conservative organizations. Liberal groups tend to think that once they have formed their interest group, their job is done. We need to be at least as vocal, if not more so, if we intend to have a voice that will be heard above the din of all the conservative coalition shouting.

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