Wednesday, July 24, 2024

June 19 letters to the editor: River health, marijuana tax and reproductive rights

| June 19, 2024 12:00 AM

Protect Smith River from mining

The Smith River is a popular, well-renowned, sought after Montana experience. The Smith River possesses invaluable beauty and environmental significance. It is the only river in Montana that requires a permit to float. This year, 12,452 applicants applied for the lottery permit and only 978 float permits were awarded. There is one put-in point, and the one take-out point is 59 miles downstream. Visitors enjoy a four-day float trip through remote, limestone canyons.

The Smith River is now threatened by a mining operation near the headwaters of the main tributary. An Australian mining company plans to extract copper near Sheep Creek, the main source of water for the Smith River. This company has been buying up public leases of land and claiming forest lands. The remnant mine tailings would pollute and decrease the quality of water. The Forest Service could withdraw mineral rights within the Smith River area and thereby protect the river.

The Smith River is a cherished natural resource that provides vital habitat for countless species of wildlife and offers endless recreational opportunities for locals and visitors alike. Its pristine waters are a source of solace and inspiration for outdoor enthusiasts, fishermen, and nature lovers.

It is imperative that we take action now to safeguard this invaluable asset for future generations of citizens and wildlife. The Forest Service should withdraw mineral rights from areas mining would impact.

— Amy Weeks, Columbia Falls

Reproductive rights on the ballot

Montana’s 1999 Armstrong ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court protects a woman’s right to privacy and access to abortion before fetal viability. It states, “unrelenting pressure from individuals and organizations promoting their own beliefs” are not permissible and are “morally indefensible.” Yet the Montana Republican trifecta have wasted a lot of time and taxpayer money passing laws to limit women’s reproductive healthcare.

Three laws invaded privacy, intimidated women with intrusive unwarranted medical procedures and restricted medication abortion by requiring two in-person visits to a provider in a state that spans 500 miles and has few abortion providers. All three laws were deemed unconstitutional and permanently blocked.

Because of unrelenting actions by Republican lawmakers in Montana, the Constitutional Initiative Cl-128 proposed ballot measure is being circulated for signatures to place it on the ballot. If approved, it will codify reproductive rights in the MT Constitution.

Across Montana, signature gathering volunteers are facing paid agitators opposing Cl-128 supported by the Montana Family Foundation. These individuals are following volunteers, interrupting conversations, & videotaping them even though state law prohibits physical intimidation of signature gatherers for ballot issues.

Cl-128 volunteers will not be deterred. Check your voter registration at: Make sure your vote counts.

— Betty Kuffel, Whitefish

A chance to give 85% of Montanans something to celebrate

River health is important to our way of life and our economy in the Flathead Valley. A bill currently moving through the U.S. Senate, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, is designed to protect the headwater tributaries of the Blackfoot River. This bill has a real chance to pass this year if there is a companion bill in the House. We’d like to see Rep. Zinke seize the opportunity to protect a river many of us in the Flathead visit and cherish by introducing the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act to the House as well.

The bill combines the voices of wildlife and fisheries biologists, recreationists, wilderness outfitters, timber employees, ranchers, and local business owners from our region to create a public lands solution that’s designed to benefit future generations from multiple angles. The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act creates new recreation areas for mountain biking and winter motorized use, it protects streams that will help insure a future for bull trout and native cutthroat, and tends to our local economy by sustaining a natural resources and outdoor recreation economy. It is something that our kid’s kids will look back on and be thankful for.

Rep. Zinke, now is a pivotal time to introduce the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act to the House. There are just over six months left in this Congressional session and 85% of Montanans -– that’s right, 85%! –- would like to see this bill become law.

— Joe and Joann Schmidt, Coram

Popular SB442 veto a loss for Montana

This past state legislative session, a unique and rare coalition of Montanans came together in support of SB 442. Sponsored by State Senator Mike Lang (R-Malta), SB 442 used the budget surplus from marijuana tax revenue to fund county road repair and construction, provide permanent property tax relief to disabled veterans or their widowed spouses, increase funding for addiction rehabilitation services, and create robust conservation tools to protect land and water habitat.  

Unfortunately, this popular bill was vetoed by our Governor in the 11th hour of the legislature, and our legislators failed to override the veto. The Montana Association of Counties, which advocates for our county leaders at the legislature, stated that “No Governor in the history of Montana has ever taken such a State-centric position that blatantly disregards the needs of Montanans.” Farmers, ranchers, rural law enforcement and medical personnel, veterans, as well and hunters and anglers would have all benefited from this bill.

It is important that when our leaders are out of step with the people they serve, that we the people hold them accountable. I encourage our leaders to listen to the majority of Montanans, and support similar legislation should it arise in the coming 2025 legislature.

— Margo Hunger, Bigfork