Securing Our Public Lands
You galvanized legislators to do what's right for our outdoor heritage
The 2015 Montana Legislative Session recently wrapped up. Looking back over the session, we can say with certainty – Montanans have no tolerance for any legislation that puts our outdoor way of life at risk.
You made that message clear with the petition you signed, the phone calls you made, the emails you sent, and the rally you attended. Your voice made a resounding difference in convincing our elected officials to do what is right for Montana and our outdoor heritage.
Most importantly, you galvanized our legislators to beat back a dozen bills aimed at transferring ownership of American public lands to the state. All of these bills were killed by a bipartisan coalition of legislators under the leadership of Governor Steve Bullock.
You realized the threat: a lands transfer would ruin our outdoor way of life and wreck our outdoor recreation economy, because the state just would not be able to afford managing more the 30 million acres of public lands, leaving no choice but to sell the lands off to the highest bidder.
As a result of your vigorous defense of our outdoor heritage, Montana emerged as a regional leader in the fight against lands transfer.
The good news coming from the Legislature isn’t just that we were successful in defeating the public land transfer agenda. We also made significant gains in improving public land management, access, and funding. Here is a rundown on the major issues that we tracked during the session:
- Public lands transfer. Nearly a dozen bills were introduced to support the transfer agenda, including a bill that would have created a new government task force to study the feasibility of transfer over the course of the next 18 months. Legislators killed all but one of these bills in the legislative process. Gov. Bullock vetoed the one that snuck through.
- State land and wildlife funding. In the end, the legislature made a significant $30 million investment in the programs that fund wildlife habitat management and public access. While we are concerned about the unnecessary sideboards the legislature put on popular programs like Habitat Montana and Fishing Access Sites, the entire funding was at risk for most of the session.
- Access to public lands. We worked across partisan lines to support common sense ideas that support access to recreate on state trust lands, which tend to be some of the most restricted public lands.
- State budget. MWA worked with partners to secure important appropriations that support collaborative public lands management, including the Governor’s Forest in Focus program.
As we move beyond the session, we must stay vigilant. Despite their defeats, transfer proponents will keep pushing their agenda through the interim and into the next session. They’re dedicated, and well-funded by the special interest groups that stand to gain the most from the transfer and sale of American public lands.
At MWA, we are digging into a fresh agenda on public lands and access. We are pursuing ideas that will improve public lands management and build investment in our outdoor recreation economy. This proactive agenda is about securing our state’s outdoor heritage and way of life now and for future generations. We hope you will join us.
- Clayton Elliott, MWA's state policy director