How Sen. Daines Can Regain Montanans’ Trust on Public Lands
His vote last week put a host of special areas in Montana at risk of being sold
Last Thursday, Sen. Steve Daines cast the deciding vote in support of a Senate budget amendment that put our public lands, including wilderness areas and wildlife refuges, at risk of being transferred, exchanged, and sold off.
His vote for Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R–AK) amendment represented a dramatic reversal of his position on transferring American public lands to the states. When he was running for the Senate in August 2014, he stated, “I will not support any proposals that would reduce Montanans’ access to our public lands, nor will I support efforts that result in the sale of public lands that Montanans so greatly value.”
Sen. Daines’ vote last week resulted in an outpouring of frustration from Montanans of all political stripes, dismayed that he would put special places at risk of being sold, including the Bob Marshall and the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness—an area he’s often said was his favorite place to backpack as a younger man. His vote generated hundreds of comments on social media and newspaper websites and triggered a sharp editorial from The Billings Gazette.
The vote for Sen. Murkowski’s amendment was the latest in a string of ill-considered votes going back to January, when he voted to strip protection on 17 million acres of wilderness-quality public lands and to not reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an essential program for ensuring access to our public lands.
After this string of votes, many Montanans are questioning whether we can trust him to do what’s right for our public lands and our outdoor heritage.
To regain the trust he’s lost with Montanans who care deeply about our outdoor way of life, Sen. Daines will have to chart a different course than the one he’s on now. Here are three ways we think Sen. Daines can get back on a productive path forward:
- Take a balanced approach to forest management reform. If Sen. Daines is serious about tackling national forest reform, his efforts need to satisfy more than the interests and needs of timber mills. Montana’s remaining timber mills are critical for our rural economies, but balanced legislation must include protection for wildlands and access to high-quality recreation experiences. Without including conservation and recreation in forest management reform, his efforts are unlikely to receive bipartisan support in Montana, much less in Washington, D.C.
- Support Montana’s homegrown collaboratives, including proposals for common-sense wilderness conservation. For years, Montanans have been putting aside past differences and reaching consensus on how our national forests should be managed. The difficult work of place-based collaborative groups, like the Whitefish Range Partnership and the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project, offers the senator the best chance of breaking through the gridlock that has prevented us from moving forward on forest policy reform.
- Support legislation that reauthorizes and fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Essential for sustaining Montana’s quality of life, this popular, bipartisan program takes royalties from oil and gas development and channels it toward cities and states to help them conserve irreplaceable lands and wildlife habitats, improve outdoor recreation opportunities (including municipal swimming pools and soccer fields), and provide access to countless fishing, hunting, and hiking areas.