Hundreds rally at Montanas Capitol on behalf of public lands and our outdoor way of life
On February 16, more than 500 people of all political stripes filled the Montana State Capitol and sent a very loud and clear message to the state’s elected officials: Keep public lands in public hands.
Organized by Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Wildlife Federation, the rally garnered a huge amount of media attention across the state. It showed once again that Montanans cherish their public lands and the outdoor way of life those lands provide. And it inflicted a lasting wound to the out-of-state agenda of transferring federal lands, an agenda that MWA and its partners are committed to stopping dead in its tracks.
Randy Newberg, host of “Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg,” served as MC to a cast of speakers that included Gov. Steve Bullock, MWA state council member Addrien Marx, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen, as well as former Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton and Montana State University Rebecca Brown.
People came from all over the state to the rally, including 140 who rode on busses from Billings, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, and Missoula.
“These lands are our heritage,” Gov. Bullock thundered to a crowd that represented hunters, anglers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. “These lands are our birthright. These lands define who we are and what we are.” (Click here for video of Bullock's incredible speech.)
Again and again, the speakers referred to public lands as what unites Montanans, no matter your political or cultural persuasion.
“Seeley Lake is a pretty diverse place, and we have a lot of different views of the world,” said Marx, who owns a gas station and hardware store in Seeley Lake. “But one view we all hold in common is that of the Swan and Mission Mountains that surround us, lots of amazing country that belongs to you, me, and all Americans.”
David Allen characterized the lands transfer as a distraction that doesn’t address the problems that plague effective land management.
“There are a lot of issues with federal land management today, but changing ownership is not going to solve those issues,” Allen said. “Don’t give me the answer that states can do it better and ask us to buy that. That’s not the answer, it’s a political answer.”
Mary Sexton pointed out just how financially insane a transfer would be, citing the $100 million it would cost the state to fight fires and the massive increase in how much it would cost ranchers to graze their cattle.
“Where would that money come from?” Sexton asked. “From a fiscal standpoint, this idea of transferring federal lands to the state is really pretty crazy.”
Rebecca Brown, an freshman at MSU, reminded the crowd that a lands transfer would negate the years of neighborly, grassroots work happening around the state aimed at finding solutions for better managing our public lands.
“Last year, our federal elected officials from both political parties worked together to pass the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, protecting some of the most important lands in our state,” she said. “We need our state lawmakers to use the same common sense. Instead of gambling our future--my future--on risky political schemes, let’s work together to support common sense public land protection.”
A few days after the rally, Sen. Jennifer Fielder, who is leading the transfer charge of behalf of Utah’s American Lands Council, saw the first two of her bills that would take us towards a lands transfer shot down in legislative committee. The failure of these bills followed a statement from the Montana Wood Products Association expressing opposition to a lands transfer.
“Montanans clearly do not support the transfer of public lands out of public hands,” Bullock said at the rally. “And yet ... transferring public lands is a key part of the Republican party platform.”
With the Montana Wood Products Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and a number of other conservative organizations now publically opposing transfer, we ask Montana’s Republican party to drop the transfer scheme and join us in building a positive and progressive agenda for Montana’s forests and prairies, one that embraces wildlife habitat and recreation.