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Outdoor groups rally at state capitols against federal land grabs

Sportsmen's groups and outdoor businesses are rallying against attempts by lawmakers in some Western states to take control of federal lands within their state borders.
Sportsmen's groups and outdoor businesses are rallying against attempts by lawmakers in some Western states to take control of federal lands within their state borders.

PUBLIC LANDS -- Sportsmen's groups and outdoors business have scheduled rallies at the Idaho and Montana capitols to protest efforts by some state lawmakers to take control of federal public lands. The groups contend state takeovers would ultimate result in the public losing access to millions of acres of land critical to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.

In Boise, noon-2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12, speakers will call for keeping public lands public and urge Idahoans to sign a petition supporting that stance. The rally is being organized by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

In Helena, on Monday, Feb. 16, rally speakers will include Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen, and former Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton, along with business owner Adrienne Marx and Randy Newberg, host of the popular cable television show, “Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg.” The event is being organized by Montana Wilderness Association and Montana Wildlife Federation.

  • Read a story about campaigns to speak out against the legislation in Western states.

In Montana, a coalition plans to present a petition to Gov. Bullock rejecting any efforts to seize American lands. So far, nearly 3,000 people have signed the petition. More than a thousand signed it within 24 hours of when the petition appeared online.

Here's more info from the coalition:

This week, Sen. Jennifer Fielder introduced the first of dozens of bills she and other legislators are working on this session that are aimed at transferring American lands into state ownership, a move that would saddle Montana with the $250 million price tag of managing the lands and force the state into selling those lands off to the highest bidder.

“This rally is about letting our elected officials know that Montanans flatly reject any effort to privatize lands that belong to all Americans and provide the backbone to a $3 billion state outdoor economy, an economy that keeps small towns like mine alive,” says Addrien Marx, a business owner in Seeley Lake and member of Montana Wilderness Association’s state council.

One of Fielder’s bills, to prohibit the sale of American lands transferred to the state, has already drawn strong criticism from Montanans for its disingenuousness.

“This is just a political stunt to shield Fielder’s agenda to seize public lands,” says Dave Chadwick, executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation. “If she succeeds in her public land takeover, future lawmakers will be forced to sell off those lands to keep from bankrupting the state.”

Another of Fielder’s bills would have the state conduct an economic study of transferring public lands to the state. Utah spent $2 million of taxpayers’ money in conducting a lands transfer study. The study concluded that such a transfer would tie Utah’s economy to the volatile oil market and force the state into industrializing public lands

In Idaho, the legislature is attempting to wrest control of up to 34 million acres of federal public lands. Currently, legislators are considering a measure so that “modifications to Idaho’s statutes and State Constitution can be made to effectuate these policy goals.” A related proposal would spend a half-million dollars of state funds (plus an additional quarter-million every following year) to actively pursue options for transferring ownership of federal lands in Idaho to the state.

According to organizers of the Boise rally:

Idaho cannot shoulder the enormous costs associated with fighting wildfires, maintaining roads and trails, treating noxious weeds and conducting habitat restoration on these lands. The transfer of federal lands to Idaho would result in one likely outcome: the fire sale of these lands to the highest bidder – billionaires and foreign corporations who may neither understand nor value America’s outdoor heritage. Once privatized, these lands will become off limits to most sportsmen in perpetuity.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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