Montanans Speak Out: Don’t Giveaway our Public Lands!

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Representatives from the American Lands Council (ALC) spoke at the Swan Lake Community Center in Condon last Tuesday evening to push their agenda of transferring and selling our public lands – the lands where most of us hunt, fish, hike and otherwise enjoy the outoors. An overflow crowd of more than 100 people attended the meeting, and an overwhelming majority spoke against efforts to transfer or sell our unique public lands heritage.

ALC speakers blamed federal land management for wildfires, mountain pine beetles, increased crime rates in rural communities and even rape. (Seriously: One of the presenters claims that a woman was raped because the town where she lives had a “budgetary shortfall” from “lack of logging revenue” from public lands)

The ALC claims that states would do a better job of managing our public lands. But several studies and economic analyses conclude that states like Montana could not afford to manage all the lands now managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. Plenty of precedence shows that states like Montana would most likely have to sell these lands to private interests. (The state of Idaho has already sold more than 40 percent of their state lands because they could not afford to manage it all.)

The ALC speakers presented half-truths, misconceptions and distortions, grossly oversimplifying and misrepresenting complex issues such as forest health, wildfire and wildlife management while dismissing sound, scientific research and ignoring we hunters, anglers, hikers and other local citizens who use, understand and cherish our public lands.

The American Lands Council and other industry-led efforts to sell or transfer our public lands insinuate that management decisions are dictated by bureaucrats from Washington DC. Actually, these decisions are made by local district rangers, foresters, engineers, wildlife biologists and other resource professionals who live and work in our communities — people who are our friends, family and neighbors. Their decisions are based, in large part, on local public needs, desires and input. Balance is achieved through the concepts of “multiple use,” or, as the first man Theodore Roosevelt appointed as Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, put it: “The greatest good for the greatest number of people.”

Efforts to sell and transfer our public lands are funded by out-of-state developers who would like to get hold of our lands for the sole purpose of unsustainable logging, mining, and vacation home development without safeguards to protect our fish, wildlife and wild places – safeguards brought about through the tireless efforts of we local hunters, anglers and others who enjoy public lands. The people behind the push to transfer and sell our public lands don’t really seek balance or compromise; they selfishly and greedily want it all. They don’t care about the health of our wildlife and wild places, and the hunting and angling opportunities they provide; they care only about profit. They’re not trying to find solutions to complex problems; they’re trying to rob us of our unique American heritage.

If the ALC truly wanted to support a “lawful, peaceful path to restore balance for a healthy environment, abundant outdoor recreation, and safe, vibrant communities,” they would not suggest selling and transferring public lands — they would, instead, support efforts such as the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project (BCSP). The BCSP is a locally-driven, grassroots collaborative effort to protect and enhance a variety of traditional land uses – including hunting, fishing, hiking, wilderness, logging and snowmobiling — in the Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys while creating and maintaining jobs and helping local communities. It achieves true balance and protects and enhances true, traditional Montana values and activities.

It’s cooperative efforts like the BCSP that cut through the divisive rhetoric that often dominates discussions about public lands and achieve compromises and solutions that benefit us all. As the people of Condon made very clear last week — selling or transferring our public lands is not a viable or acceptable solution.

Thanks to all who defend our public lands legacy. As Theodore Roosevelt said of the public lands he so passionately fought to protect and defend: “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

Dave Stalling is Montana Wildlife Federation’s Western Field Rep. To reach him about the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project or other issues email him at dstalling@mtwf.org