Friday, November 2, 2012

Public Lands in Public Hands




In a few short hours, I’ll point the truck north and head up to the highline for a week of chasing gnarly old whitetails and a few monster muleys. If I’m lucky and find a deer willing to take a bullet, I’ll point the truck west and start seriously looking for an elk to fill the freezer and a wolf for the mantle. I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas morning to arrive.

But I also feel like a kid who’s toys are about to be stolen. In two recent developments, Stream Access has returned to the forefront of the news and our minds. In Virginia, a court found that a fly fisherman fishing well below the high water mark was found to be trespassing. Highlighted in this Orvis blog[B1] , the case shows that some folks with enough money will stop at nothing to throw the citizens off of their public resource.  The image of a lone angler fighting for the right to utilize a public resource should sicken all of us. If this happened in Montana, do we think this guy would have only had a lawyer by his side?

Remember 2011, when over 500 of us showed up to kill the ditch bill? I do. It was something that I’d never seen in over a decade of advocating for hunters, anglers and wildlife. I don’t know if we can repeat that effort in a few short months, when the Legislature returns. I hope so. Because the same attacks on our access that we saw in 2011 have been smoldering underground during the off season will be coming back next session. Recently, two groups, the United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM) and the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) have joined in on the side of James Cox Kennedy in trying to overturn Montana’s Stream Access law[B2] . These same groups advocated for HB 309 during the last legislature, and these same groups have been trying to undermine the public ownership of wildlife for quite a while now, essentially trying to turn America into Europe when it comes to hunting and fishing.

In fact, out of the 110 plus bills we fought in 2011, UPOM was regularly on the side that was seeking to eliminate your voice in wildlife management, eliminate funding for access programs, and even stood with those who wanted to kill the Wolf Management plan that led to our ability to manage wolves.

I think everybody respects private property rights. I know I do. But I also know that what’s public is public, and it needs to stay that way. Not just for my ability to hunt and fish, but for the $3 billion economic engine that Montana has based on the democratic allocation of the wildlife resource and public lands. Access to public lands and water will always be contentious so long as people with hidden agendas try to obfuscate the reality of what public ownership of wildlife means.

Much like our staunch defense of the second amendment, fighting for access is something that most Montanans are born with. So much of our lives are spent on public ground that we consider it ours. Because it is our land, our water and most importantly: Our wildlife.

It’s not socialism, as some folks think. It’s the most democratic enterprise that this nation has ever invested in. Without public lands, and access to them, we might as well buy some lederhosen and try to figure out how to shoot running boar while spending tens of thousands of dollars to do so. Public lands are the great equalizer, providing the opportunity to harvest game to everyone.

I’ll take that over the lederhosen every day.

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