Sen. Daines Casts Deciding Vote to Sell Montana’s Public Lands
Senate amendment puts wilderness areas and wildlife refuges at risk
Yesterday, Sen. Steve Daines reversed his position on the transfer and sale of American public lands when he voted for a budget amendment that would enable the transfer and sale of these lands. And not just any public lands.
Sponsored by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the amendment would create a “reserve fund” to facilitate the sale, transfer, or exchange of lands in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, and all other wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national forests, conservation lands, historic sites, and national memorials to state and local governments. By not excluding wilderness areas, Murkowski’s amendment takes a step further than state proposals, which have tended to exclude wilderness areas from transfer.
Sen. Daines has stated numerous times that he does not support selling our public lands. In a speech he gave on February 18 to a joint session of the Montana State Legislature, he declared, “We must stand firm against any efforts to sell our public lands.”
Sen. Murkowski’s amendment passed 51 to 49 in the Senate. Three Republican Senators voted against the measure, but Sen. Daines was not among them. Instead, he cast the deciding vote in support.
Sen. Daines’ vote continues a troubling trend that began when he was in the House and co-sponsored a top-down logging bill that failed to include ideas from Montanans involved in forest collaboratives across the state. The trend continued into the first month of his Senate tenure with four wrong-way votes that included a measure to remove protections on 17 million acres of American public land.
This latest vote is perhaps the most difficult to comprehend because it follows immediately on the heels of a rally in Helena last month to oppose the transfer or sale of public lands. The rally drew more than 500 outdoorsmen and women from across the state and from across the political spectrum, making it one of the largest ever held at the Capitol. It was also, by far, the largest in a series of anti-transfer rallies that occurred this winter in state capitals throughout the West.
His vote also follows the release of a petition demanding that Montana's elected officials “oppose any legislative efforts to advance a land transfer.” The petition gathered more than 3,000 signatures in less than a month leading up to the rally. Underscoring the wide range of opposition to transfer, the Montana Wood Products Association issued a policy statement in February calling the transfer idea “a distraction” that could “catapult the timber industry back into the “timber wars” of past decades.”
As a result of this outpouring of support for American public lands, the transfer agenda has so far gained almost no traction at the Montana legislature, with only one transfer-specific bill making it out of committee.
The transfer-and-sell debacle may be a distraction, but it remains a dangerous one, jeopardizing the public lands that sustain Montanans’ outdoor heritage and way of life. The 51-49 vote to transfer, sell, or exchange American public lands is a sign that many Republican legislators in Washington D.C. consider land disposal an agreeable management option. Thankfully, some Republicans do not. Unfortunately, Sen. Daines was not among them.
But Montanans feel differently. We feel that our outdoor heritage should be transferred into the hands of our children and grandchildren, not to individual states or private buyers. In the past, Sen. Daines has appeared to be in agreement with this position, but rhetoric and votes are two different matters. Unfortunately, votes speak much louder than words.