Despite troubling signs of things to come over the next four years, we remain hopeful and resolute
Since the election, we have seen troubling signs of things to come in the next four years.
No more than 24 hours after the election results were announced, the American Lands Council, whose mission is to transfer and dispose of American public lands, proclaimed victory and predicted the organization would make significant gains in its work to destroy Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation legacy. The organization has reason to be confident because the Republican Party adopted public lands transfer as part of its national platform this summer and will, come January, control the White House and both Houses of Congress.
More recently, a lawyer for the Mountain States Legal Foundation hinted to The New York Times that the oil and gas industry will urge the Trump administration to reverse the recent cancellation of a 6,000-acre oil and gas lease – held by the foundation’s client, Solenex, LLC – in the Badger-Two Medicine Area, just a mile south of Glacier National Park.
And Donald Trump’s short list for cabinet positions strongly suggests that he intends to follow through on his promise to roll back bedrock environmental laws and industrialize public lands.
As members from across our great state and country have contacted me about these concerns, there are two messages I convey in each and every conversation, and the second message always comes as a surprise to our supporters.
First, we have every reason to expect a fight over our public lands, and MWA is ready for this fight. We have more than 5,000 members, some 20,000 friends, and a team of 25 remarkable staff members located in seven offices across Montana. We’re built to galvanize, mobilize, and win.
The second, more surprising, message I convey is that we expect to advance key conservation goals in the next four years. We expect this, because our values – clean water, abundant wildlife, healthy forests, and access to public lands – are Montana’s values, and those values transcend the current, bitter state of American politics.
Here are three examples of the conservation goals we’ve pursued over the last several years that we are now closer than ever to achieving.
1. Cancellation of all oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine
In the lead-up to the next administration, we expect to achieve one of our priority goals – to free the Badger-Two Medicine from the threat of oil and gas development. Two weeks ago, Devon Energy voluntarily relinquished its 15 leases in the Badger. There are now two leases remaining, but we’re confident that those will be cancelled in the next month or so. We’re also confident that anyone seeking to reverse these cancellations will find it much more difficult than they expected.
The 35-year battle to protect the Badger-Two Medicine from industrial development, which we’ve waged in partnership with the Blackfeet Tribe, is a potent reminder that our values endure and will prevail in the end if we work together.
2. Introduction of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project
Immediately after the election, Sen. Tester reaffirmed his support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, which will add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas. Montanans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support this proposal – Republicans by 74%, Democrats by 73%, and Independents by 75%.
The BCSP goes to show that different interest groups in Montana can find common cause around wild places and public lands. Now it’s time for Sen. Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke to join with Sen. Tester, commissioners of all affected counties, ranchers, loggers, snowmobilers, conservationists, and 74% of Montanans in supporting this made-in-Montana proposal.
3. Protecting public lands access and expanding our outdoor recreation economy
Governor Steve Bullock, who has declared multiple times that no public lands seizures will occur on his watch, ran on a pro-public lands agenda that includes creating an Office of Outdoor Recreation. This office will advocate for businesses that depend on Montana’s great outdoors and help Montana’s communities thrive as gateways to public lands.
We expect to advance key conservation goals in the next four years, because our values – clean water, abundant wildlife, healthy forests, and access to public lands – are Montana’s values, and those values transcend the current, bitter state of American politics.
The governor’s agenda also includes fully restoring Habitat Montana, a popular state program that unites farmers, ranchers, and sportsmen and women. The program channels revenue from out-of-state hunting and fishing licenses to private and public land conservation, which helps ensure healthy wildlife populations and provides access to previously inaccessible public lands. Montana’s Legislature froze the program during its last session.
MWA will once more have a strong presence at the 2017 Legislative Session. We will work towards restoring Habitat Montana, creating an Office of Outdoor Recreation, and will rally Montanans against any effort to sell off our public lands.
There’s no doubt that the next four years are going to present us with some daunting challenges. But if there’s anything that unites and galvanizes Montanans, it’s public lands and our outdoor heritage. These values are bigger than any one party or single administration.
Please take a moment now to donate $15, $50, or $100 so that we can continue fighting for our public lands, for wild places, for Montana.
- Brian Sybert, MWA executive director