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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Oct 24 2019

A Dangerous Idea Resurrected

Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder testifies in Congress promoting a public lands transfer bill

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Earlier this year, 2,000 Montanans stood shoulder to shoulder in the Capitol rotunda shaking the rafters with chants of “Keep public lands in public hands.” Our demand caught the attention of Montana’s legislators, and not a single lands transfer bill was introduced in this year's legislative session. But one legislator who was inside the Capitol rotunda during the rally is currently thumbing her nose at the overwhelming majority of Montanans who have demonstrated over the last several years that they are adamantly opposed to any legislation aimed at transferring or selling off public lands. 

You'd be forgiven to think the effort to transfer public lands in Montana was dead, given how little support there is for it. But just last week, Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder (R - Sanders County) resurrected the idea and testified in the House Natural Resources Committee in favor of the National State Lands Act, a piece of legislation concocted by the Utah-based American Lands Council that would transfer national public lands to states that want to take them over. Fielder is the president of the council. 

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This bill has not yet been introduced, but, according to Sen. Fielder, it has a number of interested potential sponsors in Congress. Were it to move forward, it would threaten the very existence of our public lands and our access to them. 

Sen. Fielder and the American Lands Council have proven that they are still committed to this dangerous and highly unpopular idea to transfer our public lands, something which would invariably force states to sell those lands off. And they not only have allies within the House Natural Resources Committee, such as Utah Congressman Rob Bishop and California Congressman Tom McClintock, they also have an ally at the top of the biggest public land management agency in the country. William Perry Pendley, whose appointment as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management was recently renewed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, has been a longtime outspoken advocate for selling off public lands.

Sen. Fielder’s testimony in the House Natural Resources Committee, and Bernhardt’s appointment of Pendley as head of the BLM, are two stark reminders that we’re not yet out of the lands transfer woods. 

To safeguard our public lands, we must continue to show greater commitment to keeping them in public lands. To demonstrate your commitment and to sign up to receive updates and action alerts on threats to our public lands, sign our pledge to defend our public lands from being transferred, sold off, or exploited.

- Kayje Booker, MWA advocacy and policy director