News & Opinion | October 27, 2017 9:00 am

Montana’s New Wilderness Protection Bill Is a Model for Bipartisan Compromise

Compromise: There's a novel idea.

Montana Senator Jon Tester (D) just proposed a bill in Congress to make an 80,000-acre protected area spanning the Mission Mountain, Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas. The bill comes less than a week after another bill — HR 330 — was put into motion to limit protections for National Monuments.

At first pass, this doesn’t sound like much. Until you consider the people Tester brought to the table when reaching a compromise.

Yes, compromise. Remember that word? It involves two or more people with different perspectives reaching an agreement that satisfies all parties. Operative word here is satisfied — not 100% happy. In this day of winner-take-all politics, that’s a rarity.

But Senator Tester’s plan, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, was 12 years in the making, and to achieve it, he had to get the timber industry, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the Missoula Central Labor Council, local outfitters (snowmobilers, fly fishermen, etc.) and even conservation groups on the same page.

The bill will finance and regulate watershed and forest-restoration programs in addition to providing trails for mountain bikers and snowmobilers. Granted, there are plenty of environmentalists still shaking fists at the limited scope of the bill. But we’d point back to the word, compromise: it’s an acceptance of standards that aren’t ideal, but at least palatable — for both sides.

Nevertheless, the bill has the support of 74 percent of the community. So we’ll say that as far as compromises go (not to mention state’s rights), it should be not only ratified, but also studied elsewhere for best practices. The bill will next go before the U.S. Congress, where the Republican majority has typically ruled against environmental protections (hell, the EPA now says breathing particulate matter is good for you).

Hopefully more rational minds prevail, and even take a page out of Montana’s book.