MISSOULA – Kathleen Williams is the Democratic candidate for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat, but on Wednesday she appeared at the University of Montana not as a congressional candidate, but a concerned citizen.
Wilderness Study Areas are a very divisive topic in Montana. There are 44 WSA’s in Big Sky country and the WSA designation was given in the 1970’s as a way of protecting these areas from development
Williams sought to bridge the divide between different groups by hosting a roundtable discussion at the UM Wednesday morning.
“Wilderness Study Areas have been a topic of public discussion recently there have not been a lot of opportunities that I have heard of for people to come and share their perspectives on Wilderness Study Areas, so we wanted to provide that opportunity,” Williams said.
That opportunity for open dialogue produced a handful of different ideas on how to go forward with WSA’s.
One of the ideas reiterated by multiple people is that it will take compromise between all groups involved to achieve the best plan of action
“Conservation and recreation and access its not a zero sum conversation, real landscape protections come at the intersection more traditional old school conservation as well as recognizing that these landscapes need to be sustainable in terms of social and economic needs as well as base ecological needs,” said Ben Horan, Executive Director for Mountain Bike Missoula said.
Another common theme amongst people in attendance, along with panel members, is the need for more transparency in the WSA process.
“As a taxpayer I’m not really seeing very open and collaborative transparent I guess meetings or whatever for this,” said Nicole, a Bozeman resident.
“I want the process to be as transparent as it can be when it comes to our decision making. I am a big fan of the public domain. I am a big fan of the kind of dialogue that we are having here and I think we need to get beyond enemy, foe, friend foe,” said former Park Ranger Alex Philp.
Williams says that open dialogue and discussion is important to the democratic process.
“Very important, as all policy makers should be willing to go out and ask people what they feel about certain important issues and listen to that,” Williams said.
We spoke to panel member Ben Horan after the discussion and he said while this discussion does not solve the problem WSA’s present, it opens a dialogue between all parties involved and starts to build a level of trust between everyone.
He says that will be the key to all groups making the best decision together in the end.
Reporting by Connor McCauley for MTN News