Blue Joint & Sapphires
It Nourishes the Soul
Teacher and backcountry horsewoman Kathy Hundley extols the beauty and values of the Blue Joint and Sapphire Wilderness Study Areas.
Montana’s 44 wilderness study areas comprise one million acres of our wildest and most pristine public lands.
Without holding a single public meeting, Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte have introduced three bills that strip protection from more than 800,000 acres of those lands. These bills represent the biggest assault on public lands in Montana history.
We believe Montanans should have a say when it comes to how our wildest public lands will be managed. Unfortunately, Senator Daines and Congressman Gianforte are shutting Montanans out. Without holding a single hearing, public meeting, or town hall, they have introduced three bills that open 29 wilderness study areas — totaling more than 800,000 acres — to mining, oil and gas development, and expanded motorized use.
Montanans have firmly rejected this legislation. The 2018 University of Montana Public Lands Survey reveals that 81 percent of Montanans oppose these bill.
Senator Daines and Congressman Gianforte have introduced two companion bills (S. 2206 and H.R. 5148) that target the Big Snowies, Middle Fork Judith, West Pioneers, Sapphire, and Blue Joint Wilderness Study Areas, totaling nearly a half-million acres. Congressman Gianforte has introduced a third bill (H.R. 5149) that targets 24 additional wilderness study areas, including the Terry Badlands, the Centennials, and six areas within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
We’re calling on our congressional delegation to take a different approach. We're calling on them find a balanced, bipartisan resolution for all of our wilderness study areas. After all, these are places that we depend on for our drinking water, our wildlife, and our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy.
Our wild public lands are the heart and soul of Montana. They are the foundation of our outdoor legacy. They are our reason for living in the Big Sky state and for raising our children here.
Many of the places on Senator Daines’ and Congressman Gianforte's chopping block are wilder and more pristine than nearly all national parks. They provide our communities with some of the purest water in the nation and feed our blue ribbon fisheries. They give big game and other wildlife a chance to thrive. They bolster our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy and draw tourists from around the world. Our wildlands also compel businesses owners to set up shop in Montana, largely because these places help recruit top-notch talent from around the country.
“Our wild public lands are the heart and soul of Montana.”
We learned just how essential these places are to Montanans during the 2017 legislative session in Helena when Representative Kerry White, one of our state’s biggest advocates for transferring and selling off our public lands, introduced a resolution (H.J. 9) calling on Congress to eliminate protection on these wildlands and get the ball rolling on industrializing them.
The resolution triggered an outpouring of opposition. Legislators were barraged with thousands of emails and calls from around the state. This outpouring compelled members of the House Natural Resources Committee to dramatically revise the resolution and add language that asked Congress to, among other management options, consider permanently protecting – as Wilderness – the places addressed in the resolution.
The reaction to H.J. 9 made clear that the way to resolve our WSAs is for our Congressional delegation to support local, collaborative efforts focused on each of these areas, not to impose top-down, one-size-fits all legislation that decides the fate of all of these places in one fell swoop — with no opportunity for public input.
A resident of Miles City, Karen has lived in rural areas of eastern Montana her entire life. She and her husband have led hikes into the Terry Badlands for the last nine years. They also like to spend time there with their children and grandchildren.
A lifelong hunter and resident of Anaconda, Chris Marchion was inducted into the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame in 2015 for the critically important work he’s done to ensure that wildlife flourish in Montana. He serves on the Montana Wildlife Federation board of directors.
Kathy Hundley is a substitute school teacher who lives in Darby and often rides horses and mules in the Blue Joint and Sapphire Wilderness Study Areas.
Former publisher of the Lewistown News-Argus, Dave currently serves as a Lewistown city commissioner and is involved in local economic development and improvement efforts. He hikes, leads tours and spends time with his family in the Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area.
Andrew McKean is a former editor of Outdoor Life and a renowned outdoors columnist who lives in Glasgow, Montana.
A lifelong hunter and fisherman, Tim Bozorth worked for the Bureau of Land Management for 36 years, including 10 as the Dillon field manager.