Earlier this month near the banks of the Yellowstone River, I joined dozens of hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, boaters, skiers and wildlife watchers to announce a vision for Montana that I believe is one of a governor’s fundamental responsibilities: protecting access to our public lands.
Sadly, we’ve seen that access come under attack in Montana.
In our state, the size of your checkbook doesn’t determine whether or not you can spend a day alone with a fly rod on the river.
You don’t have to own a big piece of property to experience some of the best hunting and fishing in the world.
You don’t have to have friends in high places if you want to explore our mountains and trails with cameras, or hiking boots, or mountain bikes.
Taking our families to these places, enjoying them, and being responsible stewards of them, are what makes us Montanans.
All of our public lands have a tremendous impact on our economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, our outdoor recreation economy is responsible for more than 64,000 direct Montana jobs and nearly $6 billion per year in economic activity.
That’s why I’m asking the Montana Legislature to create The Office of Outdoor Recreation. This new office will be housed in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. And its role will be to cater to the unique challenges of Montana’s lucrative outdoor recreation economy — to ensure our visitors keep visiting and spending money.
Make no mistake, we all respect private property rights. We must always defend them. But there are places that the public always has access to, like our streams and rivers.
We still have folks out there who want to try to do away with that access, and they’ll go to great lengths to do it.
We still have pockets of public land that are virtually impossible to get to because they’re surrounded by private lands, or blocked by gates.
We still have disputes about whether the public is allowed on public land.
So based on input from folks across Montana, I’m announcing that my administration is creating a new position within the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation called a “public access specialist.”
Montana’s public access specialist will be on call to troubleshoot concerns from the public and -- when warranted -- to help open up inaccessible places that all Montanans have a right to.
I’m also asking Montana’s elected lawmakers to do their part as well in upholding the Montana value of keeping it public.
Created in 1987 and funded by hunting and fishing license fees, the Habitat Montana initiative opens the door to allow the state of Montana purchase lands to open up for hunting and fishing, and to protect our wildlife.
Over the past two sessions of the Montana Legislature, Habitat Montana has been under attack. Last session, lawmakers froze the funds for Habitat Montana, and I’m asking them to open it back up, without restrictions, to protect Montana’s outdoor heritage.
After all, protecting Montana’s public lands and access to them is an issue that transcends party politics in Montana. It isn’t about what Democrats or Republicans or independents want. It’s about doing what’s right for all Montanans.
I recently created a new email address to solicit ideas from all Montanans about how best to champion our public lands. I encourage all Montanans to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And with your input, we’ll continue to make Montana the best place possible for all who value our open land, our water, our wildlife, and our way of life.