Take on the feds, not private landowners

| February 6, 2020 3:17 PM

To the editor:

Really! After 50 years of the federal government cutting off access of our — the State of Montana’s — public lands by destroying or gating roads and doing all it can to eliminate logging in western Montana, now some people (and some county commissioners) are worried about what Weyerhaeuser Co. or the company they plan to sell their land to will do?

Where have you been? Or is it you feel you can take on a private land ownership without fear? If you really want to do something, take on the federal government or sit down and be quiet.

Yes, it is our land. It is the citizens of the State of Montana’s land. It is being held in trust for us by our benevolent federal government, which gives us Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) since we, the citizens, can’t make our public lands productive.

In essence, they lease our lands from us. What a deal. In Flathead County, they pay us $1.16 per acre. We shouldn’t complain as Sanders County only gets $.59 and Lincoln County scraps the bottom of the barrel at $.39. Talk about robber barons.

For that pittance, the feds have gated or destroyed over 23,000 miles of roads, effectively shutting down access to over five million acres of our public lands. And you’re worried about Weyerhaeuser’s land?

It’s long past time for the county commissioners of these three counties to recognize that they have a great deal of power over lands under their jurisdiction, particularly lands the State of Montana, in reality, owns. At the very least, they should demand a minimum payment for PILT of $5 per acre to make up for the lack of taxes the feds have effectuated by actively shutting down the logging and mining industries.

Secondly, they should demand that the county take over management of significant portions of our public land exempt from the lawsuits so prevalent today.

Third, for those lands, they should commission a forest health plan, which would give them the necessary information to know where logging, thinning and fire prevention should occur.

Finally, they should inform the federal government of the roads that they are going to open up to give access for our citizens (and tourists), allow for firefighting equipment and personnel and to create permanent fire breaks.

Our local papers can contribute to this process by, first and foremost, supporting our county commissioners if they find the courage to do what they should. Secondly, they should do a serious, in-depth series of articles illuminating how the federal government got control of our land, how they reneged on their agreement with us and how they have purposely destroyed so much of our industry that benefited our communities and natural resources.

The above, if accomplished, would certainly help. Attacking a private entity won’t.

It’s not their fault we allowed such an anti-business, anti-logging atmosphere to take root here. It would be terribly wrong of us to try to impede their ability to make their land productive. If the new owners want to gate, close or destroy roads, it’s just a minor reflection of what our federal government already has done.

After all, what’s good for the goose … But if our county commissioners took over control of our land, who knows what deals they could effectuate.

No matter what, it certainly is worth the effort, but it will take a lot of courage. I just hope that quality is not in short supply inside of our commissioners’ offices.

Mark Agather

Kalispell