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Mar 16 2015

Big Win for Our Outdoor Heritage

Bill that would have state study lands transfer dies in committee


Friday marked a huge victory for Montana’s outdoor way of life and a significant defeat for those who want to seize our American public lands.

By a vote of 10 to 8, the House Natural Resources Committee tabled HB 496, a bill that would have created a new government task force to study the feasibility of transferring ownership of American public lands to the state.

“As part of the lands transfer agenda, HB 496 would have wasted taxpayers' money, time, and resources on an idea that the people of this state have flatly rejected,” says Addrien Marx, an MWA state council member and a business owner in Seeley Lake. “We are glad that the committee members listened to Montanans."

At a hearing of the bill on March 6, those who spoke against the bill outnumbered those in favor by two to one. MWA has heard that responses left on the committee’s voice mail and on committee members’ email accounts were around 20 to one opposed to the bill.

“With HB 496 being tabled, we are as close as we’ve ever been to closing the door on the transfer scheme in Montana during this legislative session,” says Clayton Elliott, MWA’s state policy director.

While the lands transfer agenda has gained momentum in other western states, it is quickly fading in Montana. A month ago, MWA and Montana Wildlife Federation organized a public lands rally that drew more than 500 Montanans from across the state—the largest by far in a series of public land rallies that took place this winter in capitals across the West, an impressive achievement given that Helena is the least populated of any western capital. Speakers at the Montana rally reflected the diverse political spectrum opposed to the transfer scheme, as did the crowd.

“We oppose the transfer agenda because it runs counter to the outdoor heritage that so defines this state and its people,” says Marx, who was one of the speakers at the rally.

Before delivering his thunderous speech at the rally in defense of our public lands and outdoor heritage, Gov. Steve Bullock received a petition that more than 3,000 people signed urging our lawmakers to rejecting efforts to seize our public lands.

“Through the petition, the rally, and the outpouring of letters to the editor, we’ve helped unite Montanans as stalwart defenders of their public lands,” says MWA Executive Director Brian Sybert. “No other state has so firmly rejected the lands transfer scheme, and we’re going to continue leading the fight.”