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Forest Service backs measures on Montana wilderness areas

February 7, 2018

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A senior U.S. Forest Service official voiced support Wednesday for creating one new wilderness area in Montana and another proposal that would remove five sites from consideration.

U.S. Forest Service Associate Deputy Chief Glenn Casamassa testified in Washington on the two measures being considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Five areas covering more than 700 square miles (1,819 square kilometers) in central and western Montana have been studied as potential wilderness areas since 1977. They are West Pioneer Wilderness Study Area, Sapphire Wilderness Study Area, Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area, Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area and the Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines wants to remove the study area designation so the five sites would be opened again to multiple uses such as off-road vehicles and snowmobilers. Casamassa said the agency supports the move because so much time has elapsed.

Conservationists last week launched a campaign to defeat the proposal. They contend Daines drafted it without enough public input and that the lands should be preserved from development.

Casamassa said the Forest Service also supports Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s proposal to designate a 125-square-mile (324-square-kilometer) wilderness area in western Montana. But he said the agency had concerns over some provisions including one that would allow mountain biking around Spread Mountain near Ovando.

No action on the two measures was taken by lawmakers on Wednesday. It’s not clear when the proposals will come up for a vote.

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