Front Bill proponents press on in absence of Baucus

Open Letter urges Montana Delegation to keep up momentum 

Supporters of legislation to protect the Rocky Mountain Front are readjusting their sights as Montana Senator Max Baucus’ long career in Congress comes to a close.

 Senator Max Baucus is the primary sponsor of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act which was built from the ground up in a cooperative effort to protect the Front, while ensuring grazing opportunities for ranchers, and public access for hunters, fisherman, and outdoor enthusiasts.

 In November, Baucus secured unanimous, bipartisan support for the legislation in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. However, even with that momentum supporters of the bill say the Heritage Act will not pass through a sluggish Congress before Baucus leaves his post.

 “The clock simply ran out but Max needs to be commended for getting things started and steering this ship as far as he could,” said Skip Kowalski, president of the Montana Wildlife Federation. 

 After the Senate approved Max Baucus yesterday as the new Ambassador to China the Coalition to Protect the Front launched an open letter to rally support around the Heritage Act.

 "It's up to us now to double down and finish the job for the Rocky Mountain Front,” said Land Tawney, director of the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers about the letter.  “This made-in-Montana bill is needed more than ever to protect some of the most scenic, rich and diverse big game habitat in North America. Let's finish the job for Max, and for our grandkids."

 The letter, which is rapidly picking up signatures, asks the remaining Montana delegation and candidates for office to pick the ball up where Max left it and help keep the Front the way it is.

 The letter reads, “Gridlock and stalemate politics are just not as impressive as sitting down, listening to each other, and tackling the job at hand.  That’s what happened when Montanans put this legislation together and that’s what you have to power to do by working to pass it.”

 Gene Sentz, a retired Choteau educator and longtime member of the Coalition to Protect the Front says adjusting to the absence of Senator Baucus is just one more hurdle in what has been an eight-year long effort.  

 “From the first kitchen-table conversations in 2006 we knew this would be a long and involved process,” said Sentz.  “The first citizen proposed Wilderness bill in Montana took a decade but I still think we can get ours done faster than that.” 

Supporters say the Heritage Act’s chances remain good in the Senate where Senator Jon Tester remains a co-sponsor.  Things are murkier on the House side where Congressmen Steve Daines is still withholding support.

 Ironically last Tuesday Congressmen Daines voted through new Wilderness protections in Michigan and Nevada during a House Natural Resources Committee meeting.

 The significance of the vote was not lost on supporters of the Front bill who say it’s time for Daines to evolve his thinking on similar issues in Montana.

 “If he can vote to protect special places in Michigan, I think it’s time he also worked with us in Montana,” said Skip Kowalski of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Congressman Daines has an opportunity to continue the legacy of some true Montana conservation leaders by supporting the Heritage Act, one of the most significant pieces of Montana conservation legislation that has come along in decades.”