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Bitterroot National Forest stockimage

Bitterroot National Forest

Stock photo

Over 1,000 Montanans rallied to show their strong support for our public lands at our state capitol on a cold, January day.

It was a sign of a healthy democracy – cars, trucks, minivans and buses full of Montanans converged on the People’s House from all corners of our state. Families, young couples, grandmas, grandpas, college kids and the young at heart were smiling and cheering as a broad cross-section of Montanans took to the podium to loudly proclaim their love of the greatest treasure in the treasure state – Our Public Lands.

It was truly a shining moment, full of harmony and good will, with a little biting humor thrown in (We are Montanans, after all).

Unfortunately, the response that was received from the Senate Majority Floor Leader left many of us cold and disheartened. Sen. Fred Thomas, from his lofty perch on the third floor of the Capitol, claimed that the concerns of outdoor enthusiasts was “completely fake.” He also said that concerns over how the State of Montana would manage 27 million acres of public land, with no plan in place to do so, had no merit.

Proponents of the transfer and sale of public lands use a common refrain in their push to steal land that belongs to all Americans: “Trust us, but we have to get the lands before we tell you how they’ll be managed.” To us, that sounds a lot like “we need to pass the bill so we can know what’s in it.”

Congress, not wanting to wait for anything, has already started the assault on public lands. H.R. 621, while recently pulled by the sponsor, would have sold 3.3 million acres of public land. H.R. 622 would eliminate Forest Service and BLM Rangers who help keep hunters and hikers safe in the backcountry, and help our game wardens and sheriff’s catch bad guys on the back roads of Montana. Further assaults on public land are in the works under Orwellian named bills that would end the public involvement in public land management or hand management of public lands over to states or even individual counties, who are ill-equipped to handle the massive amount of work and costs involved.

On the home front, the Montana Legislature has repeatedly tried to pass anti-public land bills and resolutions, attempted to legislatively manage our wildlife and as this session unfolds, they will bring more bills to try and advance the unpopular and unwise notion of transferring public lands out of public hands.

A recent Colorado College Poll has shown that 88 percent of Montanans want improved access to public lands and 58 percent of Montanans oppose the transfer and sale of public lands. Being outdoors and enjoying all Montana has to offer is not partisan and it’s not an issue that our elected leaders should ignore us on to push out-of-state snake oil pitches.

Montanans love all of our public lands. That includes our beautiful mountains, forests and streams, many of which are on federal national forests and other lands.

All Montanans want to see the proper stewardship of our public lands. We invite Sen. Thomas to join us in working with local collaboratives that seek common ground on these issues. This would be a much better use of his time and talents, instead of telling concerned Montanans that their fears are fake, and their love of Public Lands is misplaced.

– Tony Jones, President Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, Hamilton

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