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Daines bill would change status of three wilderness study areas in Montana

A new coalition called “Our Land, Our Legacy” says it plans to fight against Daines’ bill with social media messages and an advertising campaign.
Jason Crotty-CC-BY-2
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U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana is proposing legislation that he says would ease restrictions on some federally managed lands in the state. But the bill is being met with opposition from public lands advocacy groups.

The Montana Sportsmen Conservation Act proposes to eliminate Wilderness Study Area designations from 100,000 acres of land in western Montana.

The bill is similar to legislation Daines introduced in 2017. The Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act proposed to remove Wilderness Study Area designations from 450,000 acres of Forest Service lands, and was ultimately unsuccessful.

“[Daines] created a bill that was pretty top down heavy," said Zach Angstead with the group Wild Montana. "He leaned on recommendations from nearly 40 years ago and created a bill that was unpopular and it didn't solve anything."

Angstead says Daines’ repeated attempts to de-list wilderness study areas go against what Montanans want. A 2022 University of Montana Voter Survey found 72% of Montanans support wilderness study areas.

“He's moving full steam ahead with a top down approach," Angstead said. "He has not reached out to Wild Montana in a really any way to say, how can we go about this in a collaborative sense?”

Several other groups, including Friends of the Little Belts, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers and the Montana Wildlife Federation, also issued statements in opposition to the bill.

Daines' office declined a request for an interview. In a news release Daines says Wilderness Study Area designations are restrictive and can “hinder land management and public access.”

He says his bill has support from commissioners in Judith Basin and Powell Counties as well as several motorized vehicle recreation groups, guides and outfitters, and agricultural organizations.

Ellis Juhlin is YPR's Statehouse reporter based in Helena.