by Anne Hedges

“When you’re willing to compromise your principles you’ve given up. You abandon them. When you compromise nature, nature gets compromised.”

Conservation Pioneer Martin Litton who died on Nov. 30, 2014

These words were prescient of this week’s grand compromise to pass two great pieces of legislation and give the Northern Cheyenne their rightful land. But the cost is far too high, even for these important gains.

Upon close inspection the deal is reminiscent of 1990’s deal where wild lands advocates rightfully wanted to protect Yellowstone National Park from a gold mine on its borders but were willing to sacrifice the Otter Creek valley in eastern Montana to do so. Once again wild land advocates rightfully want to protect wonderful wild lands but they are willing to give up far too much. There are just too many awful provisions lurking in the shadows of this deal that is being inappropriately slipped it into a must-pass defense spending bill.

  1. The Signal Peak coal mine in Montana. Photo by Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette.

    The Signal Peak coal mine in Montana. Photo by Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette.

    Great Northern Properties gets its grubby hands on 112 million tons of coal adjacent to the Signal Peak mine. Great Northern has been wanting this coal for years as it knows developing the illegally obtained coal rights on Northern Cheyenne land would be difficult, if not impossible, to develop. The coal on the Northern Cheyenne reservation was omitted from the expansion of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 1900. Now the Signal Peak coal mine that sends most of its coal overseas to Asian markets can further expand, continue to pollute water quality in the area, cause subsidence of surface owners property, and be responsible for hundreds of millions of additional tons of climate changing carbon dioxide pollution. Wilderness is not immune to the effects of climate change so should we sacrifice the climate for wilderness designation?

  2. Two Wilderness Study Areas near Otter Creek will lose their designation as such and 14,000 acres of wilderness study areas in eastern Montana near the CMR National Wildlife Refuge will likely lose that designation from oil and gas development. Once again, eastern Montana lands are being sacrificed for protections in the western half of the state.
  3. The Apache tribe in Arizona has been fighting a proposed copper mine in its ancestoral homeland for many years. In one fell swoop, Congress wants to give international mining giant Rio Tinto 2,400 acres in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. The area contains Apache burial grounds, important medicinal plants, and irreplaceable ceremonial grounds and cultural sites.
  4. Perhaps the most offensive and potentially dangerous component of the proposal is to to extend grazing permits from 10 to 20 years and allow the grazing licenses to be issued BEFORE completion of the environmental review processes under the National Environmental Policy Act. So much for look before you leap. It’s hard to fathom that oil and gas development could get any easier, but this proposal further streamlines federal approval of oil and gas leases.
  5. The proposal opens 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to a Native American Corporation that wants to log this irreplaceable treasure.

There’s so much more to be concerned about here than just these five items. The list is long. These ideas deserve honest debate, not to lurk in the shadows of a few good ideas. These aren’t defense department projects. For once I agree with the Heritage Foundation. These are land grabs that should be scrutinized in the light of day. Western Montana shouldn’t sacrifice eastern Montana…again.


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