Early this year, thousands of Montanans packed the state capitol and made it abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with the fool’s errand of transferring ownership or management of our national public lands to the states. Montanans traveled from as far as Whitefish and Billings for the public lands rally because they knew that Montana could never afford to manage an additional 27 million acres of public lands. Montanans know such a move would inevitably force our state to either sell off or industrialize/lease our hunting grounds, fishing holes, trails and off-roading areas.

Apparently state Rep. Theresa Manzella plugged her ears during the rally when thousands of us chanted, “Keep public lands in public hands!” How else can you explain her rationale for recently inviting Karen Budd-Falen to Hamilton to give a presentation on land use planning?

A Wyoming lawyer who has made a career out of suing the federal government, Budd-Falen is one of the key architects of the radical lands transfer movement, the aim of which is to rob all Americans of a birthright – our public lands that are among the most incredible places on earth.

The Utah based land transfer group is largely backed by mysterious, unnamed deep pockets. Budd-Falen’s visit to Hamilton is funded by unnamed sources. Ironically, some of the proponents of transferring public lands to state ownership have been those contending the state doesn’t have necessary resources to manage what it already owns. When budgets are in decline, those today advocating for lands transfer would simply say have no choice but to put some of these lands up for sale or to lease the state lands and close them to the general public as other states have done.

Among Budd-Falen’s past clients is none other than the infamous Cliven Bundy. This rancher tried to seize thousands of acres of national public land in Nevada as his own and today owes the American people more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees. Today he sits in jail while being tried for leading an armed standoff against federal and state agents.

Representing the Bundy family is just the tip of the iceberg in Budd-Falen’s resume of anti-government extremism. She once stated that “federal and state agents threaten the life, liberty and happiness” of citizens while representing a New Mexico county that expected to take over ownership of millions of acres of forest lands that belong to all Americans.

Astonishingly, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is currently considering Budd-Falen as the next director of the Bureau of Land Management. Let that sink in for one second: One of the biggest foes of American public lands is being considering for the top position of running the largest public lands management agency in the country.

Budd-Falen’s views on public lands, which Manzella shares, are a direct threat to our liberty to freely enjoy public lands. Both are not only out of touch with many Montana hunters, anglers and recreationists, they’re blind to our agricultural economy. No major ranching group has supported the land transfer movement, and that’s because ranchers depend on public lands for grazing and know that a “transfer” to the state, and inevitably the sale of these public lands into private hands, would mean higher grazing fees that could price them out of business.

There’s something else Budd-Falen, Manzella and their like-minded friends ignore: A special legislative session recently took place in Helena to debate how to plug a big budget hole made largely by firefighting costs the state incurred during the severe fire season we just experienced. What would the state do if it took over ownership or management of our national public lands and had to pay all firefighting costs with state dollars?

Please don’t let this smoke and mirrors game end our outdoor heritage and way of life. Don’t be fooled into believing that Budd-Falen has changed her tune from decades of pushing an agenda to privatize our public lands.

Let’s make sure we let Secretary Zinke know that Montanans absolutely oppose Budd-Falen as our next BLM director. Let’s also make sure that Rep. Manzella knows that Budd-Falen’s ideas on privatization of our public lands are not welcome in Montana.

Barry Twardoski, Hamilton