“These Lands are our Heritage!”
An electrifying Rally for Public Lands draws 2,000 people and sees a surprise appearance by Senator Tester
In a striking show of support for Montana’s 30 million acres of national public lands, some 2,000 people packed the State Capitol Rotunda on Friday to celebrate the outdoor way of life that defines our state, and to make it clear to decision makers that Montanans will not tolerate or allow special interests to seize and exploit public lands for private gain.
Rally attendees came from across the state to express their common love of public lands, and their conviction that those lands belong equally to all Americans, regardless of wealth or status. Bearing signs and packed across the floor and into the upper levels of the Rotunda, the attendees came to make it clear that access to public lands is not a privilege reserved for the wealthy or well-connected, but a fundamental part of what it means to be a Montanan.
Emcee Mary Hollow, executive director of Helena’s Prickly Pear Land Trust, fired up the crowd from the get-go by leading a chant of “keep public lands in public hands!”
“Today," she said, "we celebrate our public lands, and I want you to make it loud and clear so that every legislator, every lobbyist, and everybody else in this building knows exactly what our priorities are!"
Montana’s public lands champions, Senator Jon Tester and Governor Steve Bullock, amplified that sentiment, with Tester making a surprise appearance at the beginning of the rally with an electrifying speech calling on Congress to pass the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). He led the crowd in a chant of “L-W-C-F” so that his colleagues in the Senate would understand how important this conservation program is to the people of Montana.
Speakers also included Ryan Busse, vice president of sales at Kalispell-based Kimber Manufacturing. With his son Badge (named after the Badger-Two Medicine) at his side, Busse called on the legislature to keep their hands off Habitat Montana, which he called “a visionary program” that uses a portion of out-of-state hunting license fees to establish conservation easements protecting wildlife habitat and opening access to public lands.
“Nowhere else on this globe do the people own such a wide swath of true natural assets, perhaps the most true living example of equal justice,” he thundered. “This land is one of the few places that every man, woman and child is equal when they set foot on that land.”
Busse was followed by Maggie Carr, co-owner of Choteau-based Dropstone Outfitting. Carr, who leads pack trips into the Rocky Mountain Front and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, spoke about the vital role that public lands play in Montana’s $7 billion outdoor economy. She made clear that public lands allow small business like hers to flourish, directly stimulating the economy of small communities across the state and helping to provide some of the 71,000 jobs supported by our outdoor recreation economy.
Following Carr, Dr. Shane Doyle, educator and enrolled member of the Apsaalooké (Crow) nation, came to the podium. With his daughter Ruby standing next to him, he opened with a Northern Cheyenne song that he dedicated to the crowd, whom he called ”true, high-minded, big-hearted human beings who aren't afraid to say what's right."
He joked that the gathering was “one of the biggest sweat lodges I’ve ever been in.”
Watch the full Rally for Public Lands
Doyle told the story of Chief Plenty Coups, who experienced a vision in the Crazy Mountains that left a profound impact on the history of Montana. He celebrated the fact that he can go to the Crazies with his wife and five children because “half those mountains belong to us...what more can you ask for, what more can anyone ask for, than this incredible treasure of public lands that we have?"”
Governor Bullock finished the rally with another thunderous speech that called on the Montana Legislature and on Congress to properly fund the infrastructure of public lands.
“We cannot and must not leave to our kids and grandkids anything less than the unrivaled outdoor experience and heritage that our parents and grandparents worked so hard to preserve for us.”
Bullock also addressed legislation that Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte introduced eliminating 29 wilderness study area, legislation he said “cut the public out of decisions over our wilderness study areas.”
Bullock then cited the public lands record of the current presidential administration.
“Let’s not forget we have a president who has consistently attacked our public lands, most notably in Utah, where he led the largest elimination of public lands in U.S. history,” he said.
“An attack on public lands anywhere is an attack on public lands everywhere,” he added. “It flies in the face of who area as Montanans and who are as Americans.”
- Jacob Foster, MWA public lands field organizer