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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jan 04 2017

Public Lands Already under Attack in Congress and State Legislature

Zinke votes for rule change making it easier for federal government to dispose of public lands

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Yesterday was the opening day of Congress, and the House of Representatives wasted no time laying the groundwork for not just selling off our public lands, but giving them away for free.

Buried in a larger package of rule changes was language authored by Utah Congressman Rob Bishop that stops Congress from having to account for a loss of cash flow in any legislation that transfers federal public lands to the state. It doesn’t matter if the lands in question are national parks or are generating money through logging, mineral development, or grazing. Congress could simply give these lands to state and tribal entities and pretend as though the American people hadn’t lost any money on the deal.

Astonishingly, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, likely our next secretary of Interior, voted for this package.

"This rule change is an absolute affront to Montana's way of life and to the millions of Americans who hike, hunt, fish, and camp on public lands," said MWA Executive Director Brian Sybert. "These lands belong to all Americans. They're what make America so great. It's unimaginable that some in Congress would want to simply give these lands away.

"It's especially troubling,” Sybert added, “that Rep. Zinke, a self-proclaimed Roosevelt conservationist and possibly our next Interior secretary, voted for this measure, because this is a major attack on Roosevelt's legacy."

This change in House laws comes a day or so after Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder submitted two joint resolution drafts, one to study federal land transfer to the state and another to request federal lands transfer to the state.
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"This rule change is an absolute affront to Montana's way of life and to the millions of Americans who hike, hunt, fish, and camp on public lands."
-Brian Sybert, MWA executive director

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These two events, the House rules change and Sen. Fielder’s resolutions, makes clear there’s a coordinated effort between anti-public lands radicals at the federal and state levels to transfer our public lands to the state – the first step in selling those lands off.

For Montana, a lands transfer would mean taking on the financial burden of managing roughly 270 million additional acres of public lands. This would no doubt cause our taxes to skyrocket and eventually force the state to either industrialize or sell off our public lands. Either way, we would lose our favorite hiking areas, hunting grounds, fishing holes, and other places where we live and enjoy our outdoor way of life.

Transfer would also kill our outdoor recreation economy, which currently generates $6 billion annually, accounts for $403 million in tax revenue, and employs 64,000 people.

With the changes brought on by the 2016 election, the threat of Montana losing its outdoor way of life is perhaps now greater than it’s ever been.

Americans across the country have overwhelmingly rejected the transfer scheme again and again, especially in Montana and other western states. Montana's senators also continue to reject public land transfer policies. Sen. Tester and Sen. Daines both issued statements on Wednesday condemning the rule change in the House of Representatives.

Nonetheless, it appears Congress is bracing to defy the will of Americans and dispose of public lands.

That’s why we’re urging you to join us at the Capitol Rotunda in Helena on Monday, January 30 at noon for a public lands rally. Speakers will include Governor Steve Bullock, mountaineering legend Conrad Anker, fly fishing guide and TV host Hilary Hutcheson, and K.C. Walsh, CEO of Simms fishing company.

Let us know if you can make it.

- Kayje Booker, MWA state policy director