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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Nov 02 2020

Election 2020: Implications for Public Lands

Our responses to the presidential, Senate, House, and gubernatorial election results


It’s been long and exhausting, but the 2020 election has finally come to an end – at least here in Montana. Thank you to everyone who voted and helped get out the vote. 

It was clear in the race for Montana’s Senate, House, and gubernatorial seats, public land conservation is a strongly bipartisan issue in Montana. But there’s no getting around the fact that the results of these races present some formidable challenges for conservation. 

The good news is: it’s a new day for public lands at the federal level. 

Regardless of the results, we promise you this: MWA will continue unifying Montanans and other Americans of all political stripes around the love we share for Montana’s wild public lands, and we will not waver in our commitment to protecting those lands for this and future generations. 

Presidential race: Joe Biden 

Joe Biden’s victory is a clear and inspiring win for public lands in Montana and across the country. We’re encouraging the President-elect and his team to use the next few months to put together a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate our public lands and the institutions that protect them from the damage done by the Trump administration. 

For the last four years, the outgoing administration has systematically attacked our public lands. It has intentionally weakened and dismantled land management agencies, rolled back bedrock environmental laws, flouted the law, and rammed through new rules and policies that have transparently favored industry and threatened public access, ecological integrity, cultural and historical importance, and public input. 

Taking meaningful steps to repair this immense damage must be the Biden administration’s first public-lands priority.

We’ll also be encouraging the administration to prioritize the conservation of public lands in Montana and other states by:

  1. Ending the outgoing administration’s energy-dominance agenda and making conservation a priority across all public land management agencies
  2. Redoing the Bureau of Land Management’s one-sided Missoula and Lewistown resource management plans released under William Perry Pendley’s illegal leadership
  3. Acting on the overwhelming wishes of Montanans to support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act
  4. Restoring meaningful opportunities for the public to provide input into the management of Montana’s public lands

We’ll be sharing more details about our priorities for President-elect Biden’s administration soon. In the meantime, we can savor this great moment for public lands across the United States. 

Montana’s Senate Race: Steve Daines

Throughout his 2020 Senate campaign, Sen. Daines cast himself as a “protector of public lands.” His record over the last six years, which includes introducing a bill to strip protections from nearly a half-million acres of public lands across Montana, bears little resemblance to this self-characterization.   

Nonetheless, Montanans elected Daines based on his word that he would protect our public lands. We will hold him to that word for as long as he stays in office, and we will continue making it clear to him what Montanans expect from someone who bills himself as a conservation champion. 

That includes:

  • Supporting collaborative proposals for protecting public lands, proposals such as the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, a bill that already has the support of 75% of Montanans.
  • Not introducing legislation that rolls back existing protections on roadless public lands, protections that include wilderness study area designation, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other bedrock protections. 
  • Listening to all Montanans, not just supporters he’s hand-picked, when considering and crafting legislation that will determine how our public lands are managed.  
  • Standing up against dangerous appointments, such as William Perry Pendley, to top public land management agency positions.

If Daines fails to live up to those expectations, we will certainly hold him accountable, as we’ve done since he’s been in public office. 

Montana’s House Race: Matt Rosendale

Make no mistake: Representative-elect Matt Rosendale has a seriously concerning public lands record, and we’ll be watching him closely and ready to hold him accountable to Montanans.

Rosendale has supported efforts to transfer public lands out of public hands, and only flip-flopped his position when Montanans made it clear that this anti-public lands stance made him all but unelectable. As a state representative, he also voted against initiatives to combat climate change and against the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Water Compact.

Now that Rosendale has a seat in the House, he has a responsibility to authentically represent his constituents by proactively speaking out against any and all efforts to sell or transfer public lands. He must also commit to refusing to roll back public land protections, including for wilderness study areas and national monuments, ideas that have been consistently rejected by Montanans, and to supporting collaborative legislation like the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, which has overwhelming bipartisan support.

Montanans expect our elected officials to fight for public lands, not against them. Rosendale has a chance to learn from his past and be a supporter of public lands, and we will hold him accountable if he does anything less.

Montana’s Governor’s Race: Greg Gianforte 

Governor-elect Greg Gianforte has a disturbing history of taking dangerous and unpopular positions on critical public lands issues, exemplified by his 2018 legislation that would have stripped protection on more than 800,000 acres of public lands across the state. During his tenure as governor, we’ll be watching him closely and holding him accountable if he fails to respect the overwhelming bipartisan support for protecting our public lands.

Notably, we expect Gianforte to:   

  • Commit to not supporting any form of public lands transfer, including management transfer, which has been rejected by Montanans time and again. 
  • Commit, in no uncertain terms, to protecting public access to Montana’s blue-ribbon waterways and other public lands.
  • Protect key conservation programs, especially Habitat Montana. 
  • Fully support our world-class system of state parks. 
  • Listen to and meet with Montanans across the state to learn about the public lands issues that are important to them.
  • Be an advocate for public access and wildlife habitat as a member of the Land Board.

We’ll also be paying close attention to Gianforte’s nominees to lead important state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Fish, Wildlife & Parks. These agencies play essential roles in securing public access, protecting wildlife, and maintaining public lands, and the governor-elect must support them by nominating strong public lands leaders. Moreover, we’ll be holding him accountable if he attempts to cut or attempt to undermine the Office of Outdoor Recreation, something that Gov. Bullock established as a response to the enormous economic impact that outdoor recreation has on our overall economy.