By Rep. Theresa Manzella, HD85, Hamilton
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality lists Premature Mortality as a health risk associated with breathing wildfire smoke (DEQ.mt.gov). This summer, Ravalli County spent 34 days in some level of health-compromising air quality conditions.
Scientists estimate that fires in the continental U.S. and Alaska release 44 metric tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year.
In Article II, Section 3 of our State Constitution, a “clean and healthful environment” is included as an inalienable right of Montana citizens. Our County Commissioners’ first and foremost responsibility is the health and welfare of citizens who live in the counties they serve.
Montanans are desperate for solutions to the forest management problems we face in our beautiful Treasure State. More accurately, we are dying for lack of solutions. What’s more is we’re all in this together since air quality affects every resident. This is not a political issue, it’s a matter of life and death that affects each and every one of us. This is also not about transferring or selling public lands. At this point, who owns the land is not nearly as important as how our public lands are managed. We all want healthy air, water, and wildlife, abundant outdoor recreational opportunities, and safe vibrant communities, but nearly every Montanan knows that federal policies enacted by politicians in far-off Washington D.C. are producing poor, and oft-times, hazardous results.
Of the 1.2 million acres burned in Montana’s 2017 Fire Season, more than 1 million are federally managed lands. In fact, 74% of Ravalli County consists of lands that are federally managed. Proper management of federal land is quite obviously where our problems lie and where our solutions must be found. While we hope Rep Gianforte’s Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 will pass the Senate and find its way to the President’ desk, we cannot expect it to be the sole solution.
Karen Budd-Falen, a 5th-generation Wyoming rancher, is currently awaiting presidential appointment to BLM Director. Budd-Falen is also an attorney skilled in understanding federal law and has successfully defended property owners against federal overreach. She is deeply seasoned in assisting local governments to more effectively interface with federal agencies in order to protect the citizens they represent. Most importantly for Montanans, Budd-Falen has offered to travel to Ravalli County to host a land-use workshop.
A group of concerned citizens has pooled their resources to make available to our elected County Commissioners, whom we respect and trust to represent us, the gift of this valuable, educational, and productive workshop with a leading and irrefutable expert in the field. It is our desire that the Commissioners and the public will attend this workshop with open minds.
The workshop will be held at the Hamilton Middle School Auditorium on Saturday, November 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a lunch break at noon. All are invited to attend. Tickets are currently available for $10.