On Jan. 30, more than 1,000 Montanans squeezed into the Capitol building to tell our elected officials in Helena and Washington, D.C.: Keep public lands in public hands.
Sportsmen and women, conservationists, outdoor recreationists, kids and families traveled from as far as Fort Peck, Miles City and Thompson Falls. We blew the roof off the Capitol in defense of our shared outdoor heritage, making clear that we won’t stand for any legislation that even considers transferring, selling or otherwise divesting citizens of our public lands.
The rally was organized by a broad coalition of groups, including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Montana Wildlife Federation, Montana Audubon, Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund, Montana Wilderness Association, Forward Montana Foundation, Outdoor Alliance Montana, and Business for Montana’s Outdoors.
Some elected officials in Washington, D.C., apparently got the memo we sent from Helena.
Within days, Rep. Jason Chaffetz from Utah withdrew H.R. 621, which would have mandated the sale of more than 3.3 million acres of public lands, including close to 100,000 acres here in Montana. The congressman cited the massive backlash from hunters, anglers, recreationists, conservationists and businesses across the country as reason enough to reconsider the legislation.
Our victory over H.R. 621 hasn’t stopped state and federal decision-makers from trying to steal or exploit our public lands in other ways, however.
In Montana, state Sen. Jennifer Fielder plans on introducing two resolutions: one to study public lands transfers to the state and another to request public lands transfers to the state. If passed, Fielder’s resolutions would give the false impression that Montanans support public lands transfers. They also would provide false political cover to Fielder’s allies, who are pushing public lands transfers at the national level.
In D.C., Congress is eliminating rules that increase public involvement in land management decisions, chipping away at the Environmental Protection Agency and bedrock laws that protect clean water and wildlife habitat, and undermining the Antiquities Act – a pillar of Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. H.R. 622, another bill by Chaffetz, would eliminate federal land law enforcement officers in the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, giving poachers and drug cartels better opportunities to use public lands and diminishing public safety.
For more than 20 years, Montanans have fought for access to our state lands – and against their sale. We continue to fight for access to rivers, streams and our national public lands. Yet Montana Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas of Stevensville responded to our rally by saying that Montanans’ concerns over the state selling off public lands are “silly at best.”
What’s silly is that for the last several years, Sens. Thomas and Fielder, along with other proponents of public lands transfers, have wasted taxpayer dollars and critical legislative time on an agenda that Montanans have repeatedly rejected. Even sillier is their argument that, somehow, 1 million Montana taxpayers can afford to manage 27 million acres of additional lands, a cost that currently is covered by all American taxpayers. Our state taxes would skyrocket in the event of a transfer, leaving the state with no choice but to sell off or industrialize lands that make our outdoor way of life possible.
A message to Thomas, Fielder and other elected officials who are trying to eliminate our public lands and waters:
Anglers, hikers, skiers, campers, hunters, kayakers and other Montanans who enjoy the outdoors have united to ensure that America’s legacy of public lands will stay public. We remain united and vigilant. And we will continue fighting any attempts to take public lands out of our hands.