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Sep 21 2018

Montanans to Officials: Listen to us on Public Lands

Over 60 Montanans rally in Helena to reclaim public say over public lands

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Yesterday, over 60 Montanans from across the state gathered at a rally in Helena to send a message to Senator Steve Daines, Representative Greg Gianforte, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: stop depriving the public of a say in the management of our public lands. 

The “Rally to Reclaim Public Say Over Public Lands” was organized in response to the frustration that Montanans are feeling regarding the continued marginalization of public input into decisions that shape the future of the public lands that form the bedrock of our Montana heritage. Attendees held signs urging the Montana delegation and Sec. Zinke to listen to Montanans instead of locking them out of decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods.  

Speakers at the rally included Anson Nygaard, MWA public lands field organizer; Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri River Waterkeeper; Rocky Mountain College student Andrhea Massey; and Ravalli County resident Pat Tucker. 

“It’s a lack of information and a lack of outreach to local people, and to Montanans in particular, that's so suspect here,” said Alsentzer. “ We need to speak up for the real value of our landscapes and waterways in Montana." 

In his 570 days in office, Sec. Zinke has suspended more than 200 advisory panels - more than one every three days - and 30 resource advisory councils which, for years, have allowed citizens to provide input and local expertise to inform decisions by land managers. He has also tossed out a highly collaborative plan years in the making, involving dozens of local stakeholders, to preserve sage grouse populations in Montana and across the West. 

“The sage grouse management plan was adopted after decades of discussion between stakeholders - the federal government, local officials, and hunters,” said Massey. "(Now) you're going to go in there and you're going to frack and you're going to drill these test holes and then you're going to leave, but the mark that you left on the land is going to be there for ages.”

More recently, the Bureau of Land Management, under the leadership of Sec. Zinke, announced that it would auction off leases for 76,751 acres of public land in southwest Montana for oil and gas drilling and fracking, including parcels along two of Montana’s blue ribbon streams – the Big Hole and Beaverhead Rivers – despite the fact that the area has been rated to have “low” or “very low” potential for oil and gas development. The BLM cut the public comment period about the lease sale to a negligible 15 days, a decision that the agency says was made to “streamline” the process. 

Moreover, Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte have introduced legislation that would strip protection from more than 800,000 acres of wilderness study areas - what would be the largest removal of protected public lands in Montana history - and they did so without offering any opportunity for the public to weigh in. 

In August, Rep. Gianforte held an invite-only roundtable discussion in Lewistown that he claimed was a public meeting, and a field hearing in Hamilton at which he did not allow public comment. Sen. Daines has repeatedly ignored the voices of Montanans, citing support from county commissioners who have either not consulted with their constituents or else have ignored widespread local opposition to wilderness study area (WSA) legislation (Ravalli). 

Earlier this spring, Governor Steve Bullock wrote a letter to the congressmen stating that he was “particularly troubled by the lack of public engagement used to formulate these proposals...All Montanans value their public lands and have a stake in their future management.” The letter followed the release of an open letter - since signed by over 2,700 people - from Our Land, Our Legacy, a citizens’ group asking the Montana delegation take a bipartisan, balanced approach to resolving the future of our WSAs and to engage the people benefit from, use, and cherish these wild public places. 

Montana’s public lands are central to our way of life. It’s time for our elected officials to start respecting our voices in deciding their future. 

- Alex Blackmer, MWA communications coordinator