Obama Administration Visits Montana to Learn About Local Conservation

May 28, 2010

Protecting public lands is critical for America’s Great Outdoors

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is visiting Montana next Tuesday and Wednesday to participate in “listening sessions” as part of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative. Administration officials will be learning from Montanans about successful, community-based conservation initiatives that involve collaboration from various stakeholder groups.

On Tuesday, Montana Senators Baucus and Tester, joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, CEQ Chairperson Nancy Sutley, and administration staff will participate in panels with local partnerships -- such as hunters and anglers, ranchers, timber companies, conservationists and recreationists -- to highlight local conservation successes. Administration staff will then travel on Wednesday to Bozeman, Helena and Missoula to learn about other conservation collaborative partnerships.

It is expected that the Obama administration will highlight the Crown of the Continent (see description below) as an example of local partnerships working together to protect a treasured area. The Wilderness Society has been working with local partners for decades to protect the Crown.

“The Crown of the Continent is a premier place for the Obama administration to take a look at how successful conservation is getting done,” said Bob Ekey, Northern Rockies Regional Director at The Wilderness Society. “It represents one of the most promising opportunities for conservation work in the West because conservation is so much a part of the day-to-day culture. Local people have been coming together through the years to integrate public and private lands conservation into a very rich tapestry of success.”

The Wilderness Society believes that America’s Great Outdoors is an opportunity to transform conservation for the 21st century, and leave future generations a natural-heritage legacy that they can enjoy. Protecting, restoring and connecting our public lands should be a critical component of America’s Great Outdoors.

By making our public lands a central focus, America’s Great Outdoors can:

  • Provide Benefits for American Families and Communities: Protecting our wild places will ensure that our families continue to benefit from the clean supplies of drinking water, healthy air and recreational opportunities that our public lands provide. Our wild places are critical in helping the lands that support our communities adapt to the effects of climate change.
  • Leave a Natural Legacy for Future Generations: Protecting our public lands fosters long-term health by ensuring that the next generation will always have places to recreate. No matter where they live, all children deserve the opportunity to learn about and experience the wild lands that belong to all Americans.
  • Improve Wildlife Habitat and Watersheds while Promoting Jobs: Fully funding restoration projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat and watersheds on damaged lands, creates jobs that will help boost local economies.

Bill Meadows, the president of The Wilderness Society said, “America’s Great Outdoors provides an opportunity for the Obama administration to work with local groups to build a national strategy to protect our treasured lands for generations to come. The proven record of success that Montanans have of working collaboratively can serve as an important model. It is critical that a central focus of America’s Great Outdoors protects, connects and restores our public lands so the children of today and tomorrow can enjoy their natural heritage.”

To view the President’s memo on America’s Great Outdoors, please visit: http://www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors/

Background on the Crown of the Continent
Montana, British Columbia and Alberta converge in a magnificent 10-million-acre international region known as the Crown of the Continent. With 1.1-million-acre Glacier National Park and the 1.5-million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness complex at its core on the U.S. side of the border, the Crown is one of the last two remaining wildland ecosystems that has entirely escaped post-industrial extinction of species – only one of 12 places in the hemisphere. This remarkable area provides one of the most promising opportunities for visionary conservation in the West.

The Crown has remarkably high levels of biodiversity for plants, birds and native mammals, including the densest and largest grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states. Threatened native bull trout, cutthroat trout and trumpeter swans are all subjects of recovery efforts.

Significantly, this system of wildlands is large enough to allow natural processes to continue to shape the area. More importantly, the Crown’s vast and diverse terrain enables it to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Finally, the Crown of the Continent is key to achieving land connectivity at a continental scale, being a key part of linking the Canadian Rockies with Greater Yellowstone and Central Idaho – providing connectivity for nearly 60 million acres of forested mountain ecosystems.

The Crown has a rich history of conservation including the world’s first international peace park and one of our nation’s first Wilderness areas. The area is ripe for more conservation history to be made with forest restoration complementing climate adaptation strategies, private lands conservation, land acquisition and wildlands protection. The Forest Service is actively promoting collaborative work with private timber companies and conservation organizations, showing promise for larger scale conservation management.

Partnerships that consist of local outfitters, ranchers, sportsmen, timber interests, conservationists and small business owners have been working together to build public-and-private land partnerships turning conservation into a rich tapestry of success. The Wilderness Society considers key areas to include:

The Rocky Mountain Front along the eastern side of the Crown, where in the past three years energy companies have voluntarily relinquished 110,800 acres of energy leases, ensuring this magnificent area adjacent to the famous Bob Marshall Wilderness will never be scarred by natural gas drilling. Meanwhile, local ranchers, landowners, and sportsmen are working to permanently protect over 300,000 acres of public lands as Wilderness and a Conservation Management Area in one of the most unique wildlife habitats in the lower 48 states.

The Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project along the southern end of the Crown is a locally- developed vision for how Wilderness designations and forest restoration on working lands can complement each other. A proposal where The Wilderness Society played a leadership role, it has been included in Montana Senator Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act which is now being considered by the U.S. Senate.

The Swan Valley along the west side has a diverse coalition of timber companies, community organizations, and conservationists working to bring $80 million dollars over the next ten years into the region to improve fish and wildlife habitat, protect communities from wildfires, and help forests adapt to the impacts of climate change. This work will complement the Montana Legacy Project which has been hailed as the largest conservation land purchase in the U.S. by The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land.

The North Fork of the Flathead River along the northwestern corner of the Crown is a glowing example of international cooperation. Recently, Canadian and American officials agreed to work together to prevent energy development on a world-class watershed near Waterton Glacier International Peace Park. Local communities and stakeholders are working to end existing leases and mirror the conservation success of the nearby Rocky Mountain Front.

Coordinated federal agency attention, resources, planning, and management of the Crown of the Continent can assure that its wildlife, water, and recreational values are preserved for future generations. Local collaboration is promising, including both rancher and timber partners as well as regional and national conservation organizations. The combination of allies and interests bode well for the Crown’s future.