From the June 2002 Idaho Observer:

Big Sky country nation's largest gated community

by Mike Aastrom

In 1997 the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Service (FWS) adopted the Road Management Plan (RMP) which identified every forest road in the state and scheduled them for either maintenance or obliteration. Though there is a statewide strategy yet to explore, this article will concentrate on Flathead county. A large portion of Glacier National Park lies within the boundaries of the Flathead.

The federal government claims to control 70 percent of Flathead county's 5,099 square miles. There are 2,104 roads in what the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) describes as a forest system. At present, according to the state of Montana, 1,910 of those 2,104 roads have been gated or rendered impassable by permanent Kelly humps made by government bulldozers.

The public no longer has access to 91 percent of the public lands in Flathead county.

We have talked to our local officials on these issues, but the road closures continue according to plan. Motor sports recreation is a thing of the past in this region except for the few overused places still open. Hunting, fishing and hiking are also becoming pastimes that are not favored by forest managers. FWS Superintendent Cathy Barbeulatos has a degree in hydrology, but doesn't have much experience in the science of road management. She does not seem to question the authority of the FWS or the USFS with regard to the road closure/obliteration agenda--regardless of how it affects the livelihoods or traditional recreation habits of the people of the Flathead.

According to the Montana RMP there is a difference between obliteration and closure. Obliteration is a process that involves removing culverts, moving road bed materials and reshaping the terrain to resemble what the experts believe it used to be. Then they replant the disturbed areas with indigenous plants. This is a very expensive process that usually seems to be disastrous for the landscape as the new plants cannot hold back the forces of Mother Nature which erode tons of material into the fish habitats they are arguably intending to protect.

On the other hand, a road that is to be closed must be gated permanently for four years. At the three-year mark, FWS plants trees on them. After six years the gates are removed because by then the roads are no longer drivable anyway.

Roads that are scheduled for closure are being planned for permanent closure. The end result is an obliterated road. It is much better for several reasons: It is less expensive, it is less harmful to the environment FWS claims to be saving and the public doesn't realize a road is being obliterated until the gates come down and it's no longer a road.

We are being locked out of the lands we pay to maintain through our taxes. The militant environmentalist Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) use the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) as the major legal hammer to accomplish their every objective with regard to “preserving the ground for Gaia.”

In the Flathead we have grizzly bear habitat, wolf management corridors, lynx habitat and several species of questionably endangered fish are protected. We believe that the federal government is using the NGOs to prosecute the ESA in court so that bears, wolves and lynxes can be used to keep the public out of the public forests because you have to feed, clothe and arm soldiers -- which would be expensive and a public relations nightmare.

Our resource-dependent communities in northwest Montana are dying. These towns sprung out of the ground with mining, logging and the harvest of other forest products. With the money earned from these industries we fed our families and supported local business. We funded everything from school to county roads with money made from this bountiful land. Now we are all going broke and yet they still tax from us through the passage of levies and bonds. New levies on every ballot. Adding to the criminal nature of what is happening all around us is that our taxes and levies are not enough to fund a school bus for the high school football team or new text books for the elementary school kids, but county government employees voted themselves a 14 percent pay raise this year.

But we should be grateful here in UNESCO county. There are seven plaques in the park that say, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Biolife Reserve.

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