Quist rally

Mike Penfold introduces congressional candidate Rob Quist during a rally at the Yellowstone County Courthouse on Tuesday, March 21, 2017.

LARRY MAYER Gazette Staff

Keep Federal hands on public lands, but let the locals decide how they’re managed, Democratic U.S. House candidate Rob Quist told a group of Billings supporters Tuesday.

Speaking to about 60 people on the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn, Quist said federal lands were too important to recreation and jobs to be transferred to states. He cited recent land-transfer attempts by congressmen from Utah as a concern for the U.S. House. Democrats argue that such transfers to states would lead to land being sold to private buyers.

“The transfer and eventual sale of our public lands is nothing more than a theft from our grandchildren and I will oppose this,” Quist said.

Western Democratic candidates for state and federal offices made political hay in 2016 with the public lands issue, suggesting that land given to states would be “auctioned off to the highest bidder.” Quist adds a twist, advocating for local input on public lands management decisions.

“I will support local collaborative forest management proposals made right here in Montana to expand access and to put more Montanans to work in our forests,” Quist said.

Local management of federal land is objectionable to some Democrats nationally. Last spring when former Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., suggested creating local advisory boards to counsel the federal government on coal leasing, House Democrats said doing so would be an extreme overreach.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, is permitted to manage logging on 5 million U.S. Forest Service acres blighted by pine beetles.

Quist’s opponent, Republican Greg Gianforte said much the same shortly after officially becoming the Montana GOP candidate. He has said he opposes transferring federal lands to states. 

“People think better decisions can be made here, in Montana, by Montanans,” Gianforte said. “I don’t support deed transfer. I do think we should be starting pilot projects to get increased state management of our federal lands.”

Quist followed up his park rally with the opening of a campaign office in the Billings Labor Temple at 530 S. 27th Street, suite 5.  

Yellowstone County has as much as an eighth of the vote in most Montana elections. Candidates have won without winning Yellowstone, but at least a close loss has been a minimum requirement for most statewide races.

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Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.