Yesterday, Dan and I attended the “Rally for Public Lands” at the Montana State Capitol building in Helena. We rode in one of the two buses that left Bozeman carrying anglers, fishermen, hunters, and hikers who wanted to show their support for keeping public lands in public hands. Our bus was paid for by Simms and Sweetwater Travel. It’s great to see companies who make their living encouraging others to head outdoors actually doing something to protect the places where we recreate.
The rally was a huge success as over a thousand cheering, sign-wielding Montanans filled the State House Rotunda to listen to several speakers including Simms owner K.C. Walsh and Montana Governor Steve Bullock.
WHY DO WE NEED A RALLY FOR PUBLIC LANDS?
It may be difficult for some to understand, particularly in the Eastern U.S. where there isn’t a great deal of federally owned lands, but our national heritage is under attack. I hate to bring politics into this–we are constantly bombarded by politics right now–but there is no other way to explain what’s happening without getting political. The Republican Party’s current national platform, which outlines its core principles, includes the desire to give away most federally owned lands by transferring them to the states. Notice that I didn’t say “return” the lands to the states; this land has always been federally owned. They want to give it to the states to fulfill their own agenda. At first, giving lands to the states sounds like a good idea. After all, public land in Montana should be managed by Montanans, right? But what’s really happening here is a deception intended to fill the pockets of wealthy land owners, and corporate campaign donors, at the public’s expense.
The Republican Party knows that the states can’t afford to manage the lands–extinguish wild fires, maintain roads and access areas, and other important duties–so the states will be forced to sell portions of these lands to try to maintain what’s left. This is exactly what many Republican politicians want. We already live in a world where a handful of greedy individuals control more wealth than the vast majority of people. They got nearly all the money, now they want the land too.
European immigrants left their homelands to come to America for many reasons, but Europe’s lack of public lands was one of their most important. The wealthy aristocracy owned everything. Our newly minted American ancestors didn’t want to live that way. Sure, we can privately own land in America, and I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing–I love my home and land. But forward minded people of our past, Democrats and Republicans (especially Republicans), wanted to make sure that portions of the the vast land in the American West were reserved for everyone. This land had always been owned by all the people, and they wanted to preserve that. But our current Republican Congress would make serfs of us all again.
It’s hard to know what President Trump’s opinions are on this matter. I’ve read some things that offer hope, and I’ve read other concerning things. Many proponents of public lands were optimistic when Montana’s U.S. Representative, Ryan Zinke, became Trumps’ nominee to lead the Department of the Interior. Zinke had pledged many times to protect public lands. He ran hundreds of television commercials this past election cycle exclaiming how important public lands are to him. But when Zinke had his first opportunity as a Trump nominee to protect our lands, he voted in lockstep with 233 other members of the House of Representatives (there are 254 Republicans in the House) to ease the rules to sell public lands. Perhaps Zinke rates his personal ambitions higher than his moral obligations or his word. Only time will tell.
So what can you do? Call your legislators. Tell them to leave our public lands as they are: Public. Vote. I don’t care if you vote Republican on Democrat, but I would never vote for anyone in either party who wants to steal the places I like to hunt and fish and sell them to people who don’t want me to trespass on their feudal kingdoms. This isn’t Europe. We the People have American rights. American legacies. Don’t let the powerful few steal your rights and legacies; or those of your children and grandchildren. If you don’t take a stand on this issue today, you may not be able to stand on your public lands, or the rivers and streams flowing through them, ever again.
Here’s the pertinent excerpt from the current Republican Party Platform (found on page 21):