Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This Land is Your Land

It doesn't matter if it’s the Supper Club in Shelby, The Pony Bar in the shadow of the Tobacco Roots or the Bison in Miles City: Bitching and stitching about public land management is just as much fun as bingo night. That’s a good thing, by the way. It means people care about how our shared American birthright is managed. It means we all take ownership over how these lands will be left for future generations. It’s best example of democracy in action that we have in modern America.

That estate, from the West Pioneers in the Big Hole of Southwestern Montana to the wild Frenchman’s Coulee in the northeastern corner of the state belongs to us, the American people. For over 100 years, the guiding principle that the land must be used for the greatest good for the greatest number of people has stood the test of time.

Until recently.

The barroom brawls over wilderness, logging and whether or not roadless actually means exponentially better elk hunting are growing again. Out-of-state interests, primarily from Utah, are infiltrating the way that Montanans manage lands. For the last decade, conservationists and timber interests, ranchers, wilderness outfitters and many, many more have been able to put aside the things they disagree on and work to find solutions on mutual problems. That’s where we ended up with the North Fork Protection Act, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the Forest Jobs & Recreation Act: Communities working together despite ourselves to find common ground.
Here’s what we’re up against:

Transfer of Public Lands: This idea is a rebirth of the old Sagebrush Rebellion, led by a huckster named Ken Ivory out of Utah. His efforts to eliminate Public Land have garnered the attention of the Salt Lake City press corps. The reality of this boondoggle is laid out well by the Billings Gazette Editorial Board: More taxes, less access.  

Sale of Public Lands: Both Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Paul Ryan have been working overtime to force the sale of your public lands. Cruz helped defeat the Bipartisan Sportsman’s Act with a poison pill amendment that would have forced states with more than 50% of their land base in public hands to be sold. Since he’s from Texas, I suppose we shouldn’t expect him to understand what a morning sunrise over Crown Mountain while elk bugle is like. Representative Ryan is an avowed archery hunter, but given his penchant for food plots and private land, I doubt he knows what it’s like to walk into wild country with nothing but your wits and a rifle on your back. His “Path to Prosperity” budget featured the sale of public lands.

Land & Water Conservation Fund: Montanans have used LWCF for 50 years. 70% of our fishing access sites are paid for by this visionary fund. Elk have the room they need in the winter along the Rocky Mountain Front because of the LWCF. Congress has to pass a full funding and re-authorization bill by 2015 in order to ensure that our funding mechanism for access to public lands remains in place.

H.R. 1526: This bill shows a clear and present danger in terms of taking the public out of public lands. Using serial litigants as boogeymen to further the agenda of eliminating protections for elk & deer, the House of Representatives have voted to create Top-Down panels that will manage our public lands based on politics rather than science. The bill would establish politically appointed “Boards of Trustees” to manage “Forest Revenue Areas.” In Montana, that could be as much as 14 million acres of Roadless Areas that account for some of the best elk hunting in the state. Those Roadless Areas and Wilderness Study Areas are generally within 2-3 miles of a road and elk seek those dark, timbered slopes to escape road traffic and hunter traffic. The bill has not had one public hearing in Montana, despite a lot of valid concerns being raised. If the goal of public land management truly is getting more local control so the people who know the land can help manage it, then H.R. 1526 is the exact opposite of what people want when it comes to collaboration as it relates to land management.

What can you do?

Stand and be counted. Your voice is desperately needed at this rally. If our officials don’t hear from hundreds of hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, horsemen and lovers of public land of all stripes, then shame on us.
You can RSVP to the event so planners have a good estimate of what to expect here:

Buses are available from Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Missoula and Great Falls (click here to find out when and where).

We’re seeing bomber bulls, monster bucks and some freaky pronghorn hitting the dirt this archery season. Post your public land critter up on our facebook page and let’s show our officials what really matters to hunters and anglers. If we don’t stand up today, our children and their children will never hear an elk bugle in wild, public country. 

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