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As the clock struck noon Saturday, bus loads of hunters and anglers from across the state took to the steps of the Capitol to protest the proposed legislation transferring federal lands to the state's control.

“I want you all to close your eyes and think of your favorite public land,” said Land Tawnee, Executive Director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, at the start of the rally. “Now think of it with a no trespassing sign on it.”

Nearly three hundred people, huddled under umbrellas or wrapped in rain suits, stood supporting the preservation of public lands Saturday. Among them were advocates and representatives of the Montana Wildlife Federation, Montana Wilderness Association and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

“As humans we are tied to place, we remember exactly where we were when we caught that first trout, or that first peak we climbed,” said Senator Jon Tester. “We can not let those treasured places be sold to the highest bidder, because that is the agenda behind what they are after.”

Tester went on to criticize Senators Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz’s attempts to sell public lands to make up for budget shortfalls and transferal of federal lands into states' hands.

Former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown took to the podium and gave a brief summation of his favorite American’s conservation views. He continued by echoing Teddy Roosevelt’s vision for public lands within the context of the current situation.

“By virtue of federal lands, such lands belong to people of Delaware and Kansas and Pennsylvania just as much as they belong to those of use currently living here,” said Brown. “Why would the rest of the country want to just give 25 million acres of their land to the state of Montana?”

Both Tester and Brown signed the Sportsmen's Creed, a promise to protect public lands and access to them and urged the public to go out and take the same action.

Last to the podium was Mary Hollow, Land Protection Specialist with the Nature Conservancy.  As a fifth generation Montanan she advocated for the protection of public lands as a way of preserving the future for today’s youth.

Hollow capped of the rally with a declaration, “I know we are going to win this battle and keep public lands in public hands.”

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Thom Bridge can be reached at Thom.bridge@helenair.com

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