Where Sen. Jennifer Fielder saw protesters, we saw supporters.
Where Fielder, the CEO of the American Lands Council and champion of the effort to steal our American public lands, saw “radical environmentalists,” we saw proud Montana citizens gathering at the state Capitol to celebrate one of the best ideas we have had as a nation: Lands owned and enjoyed by all.
This is the American advantage, this land ownership by ALL — hunters and anglers, horse packers, hikers, runners, bikers and the lovers of freedom to roam, explore and discover so doggone free that it makes you wonder how one could ever live in a place without this vast inheritance.
How heart wrenching and limiting a thought. How criminal to sell out the birthright of every single American to special interests.
But land grabbers are primed and ready to abandon Montana’s and this nation’s heritage. They’ve been harping on this painfully faulty “states do it better” line for years, and I guess they aren’t yet tired of being reminded that transferring lands that belong to ALL Americans to the states is wildly unpopular and more important, the same as selling all those public lands.
Consider a few facts:
States have a woeful track record when it comes to selling state trust lands. Western states have already sold off tens of millions of acres and you know the saying: If you want to know what the future will bring, take a look at the past.
• New Mexico has sold one-third (4.5 million acres) of its lands granted at statehood.
• Utah has sold 4.1 million acres (55 percent) of state trust lands to private interests.
• 38 percent (1.7 million acres) of state trust lands in Colorado have been sold.
• Idaho received 3.65 million acres at statehood and has sold off 33 percent (1.2 million acres).
• Oregon has sold 2.6 million acres (77 percent) of state lands granted under the Oregon Admission Act.
• Nevada has sold off nearly all lands granted at statehood, with only 3,000 acres remaining.
We already know what happens to public lands when they are transferred to states and the data doesn’t support them remaining in the hands of the many. Rather, it supports them being sold to the privileged few.
Finding proactive, collaborative solutions to face those challenges is what we should be talking about. Conversations like how we fund managing agencies so they can build resiliency in our fish and wildlife habitat to better withstand the impacts of changing climate. Or how we prepare communities for major fire and flood events; how we help ranchers and farmers better manage water resources; how we support forest collaboratives that enable forest and watershed restoration, and how we build sustainable economies that complement and bolster the health of these public lands and the communities that depend on them.
The answer to all of those questions is not and has never been selling off our birthright.
Moreover, public lands are at the heart of our country’s $887 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy. In Montana we benefit from $7.1 billion in consumer spending annually because of the outdoor recreation.
It seems, in their rush to divest a nation of its heritage, the anti-public lands crowd completely missed the message those “radical” hunters, anglers and public land users were sending: As long as we as Americans have a commonly held acre to defend, we will hold the line to protect it.
John Herzer and Terri Raugland are the owners of Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula and Flint Creek Outdoors in Philipsburg.