Public Lands

(MWA photo)

Keeping Public Lands in Public Hands

We're building a pro-public lands movement that honors our outdoor way of life

Study after study, poll after poll, confirms what we all know in our bones: Montanans benefit immensely from the rich and varied American public lands that surround our towns and that are a part of our communities.

As a recent poll by Colorado College showed, two-thirds of Montanans say that the ability to recreate on public land was a significant factor in choosing where to live, topping the cost of living, economic opportunity, and even schools. And as a recent Headwaters Economics study shows, counties with larger shares of public land attract more jobs and see stronger economic growth than the state as a whole.

Sign your name to our petition now to tell our decision-makers to reject any attempts to transfer and sell our public lands.

In Montana, public lands:

  • generate $6 billion annually
  • support 64,000 jobs
  • generate $403 million in annual tax revenue
  • draw around 11 million tourists annually

Montana Governor Steve Bullock said it best at our public lands rally on February 16, 2015: “Our public lands are not part of the problem – they are part of the solution.”

Montana Wilderness Association couldn’t agree more, and we are dedicated to making sure that we continue benefitting from and enjoying these public lands, and that involves educating and reminding our elected officials how public lands sustain our outdoor heritage and our way of life. On our website, in our social media, in the halls and offices of our state capitol and our nation’s capitol, we’ve been reminding our elected officials and other decision makers that our public lands are essential to our way of life and sacred to who we are.

But there’s another narrative that’s been running through our state and nation’s capitols: that American public lands are a detriment, best if sold off for oil and gas development or for the pleasure of the rich. Handsomely bankrolled by those who stand to profit from the sale of American public lands, out-of-state think tanks and special interest groups are spreading this message far and wide, in the corridors of state capitols around the country and in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

Unfortunately, this anti-public lands message has gained traction not just in some fringe quarters of the Montana Legislature but squarely within the U.S. Congress. In late March 2015, the Senate voted 51-49 in favor of a budget resolution amendment that would create a “reserve fund” to facilitate the sale, transfer, or exchange of lands in wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national forests, conservation lands, historic sites, and national memorials to state and local governments.

Imagine, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area or the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge sold off.

Montana Senator Steve Daines voted for this amendment, even though he has repeatedly voiced opposition to transferring and selling lands.

More so than people in any other western state, Montanans are prepared to fight for public lands, as demonstrated when more than 500 people attended a public lands rally MWA organized or when more than 3,000 people signed a petition in the lead-up to the rally demanding that our elected officials reject transfer.

Other pieces of transfer legislation are almost certainly in the congressional pipeline. In conjunction with our partners, MWA is prepared to lead the fight against these bills—in Washington, D.C. as in Helena.

As part of that fight, we’ll be working with elected officials across the state and in D.C. to build a pro-active public lands agenda that protects our outdoor heritage and improves our quality of life.

What you can do to join this fight to protect public lands:

  • Sign your name to our petition to tell our decision-makers to reject any attempts to transfer and sell our public lands.
  • Submit letters-to-the-editor for your local paper. (For more information, feel free to contact MWA Wilderness Fellow Noah Marion at
  • Work with our MWA organizers to contact local legislators, our governor, and our Congressional delegation about the importance of public lands. (Again, contact Noah at for more information.)