Guest opinion: GOP aims to sell our public lands to highest bidder

2014-07-29T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: GOP aims to sell our public lands to highest bidderBy MARY MCNALLY The Billings Gazette
July 29, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Elected officials take an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the state of Montana. Unfortunately, that oath is being cast aside when it comes to upholding the Montana Constitution and our public lands.

Montana Republicans recently passed a resolution calling for the elimination of federal public land, despite being warned by the attorneys general of Wyoming, Utah and Idaho, as well as Montana’s own Dr. Martin Nie of the University of Montana, that the proposal was unconstitutional. As any student of history knows, in order for Montana to become a state we, in our enabling act, forfeited all claim to federal public land. That means what was granted to the state remains with the state, but the rest belongs to all Americans. That fact is glossed over by proponents of this poorly thought out idea. So are many of the impacts of what this land grab would really do:

In order to assume management of nearly 30 million acres of Federal Land in Montana, we would have to spend millions of dollars each year as well as employ thousands of new state workers in order to ensure that these lands were managed for the benefit of all Montanans. Do the citizens of Montana really want to grow government so much that it wipes out our projected surpluses? I don’t believe so.

Higher grazing fees

Wildfires, roads, noxious weeds and livestock grazing all would now fall to the state to fund. Livestock grazing on federal public lands costs ranchers $1.35 per Animal Unit Month (that’s a cow and a calf eating for a month). If the state takes control of these lands, that price could sky rocket as much as 600 percent to the state minimum. Productive lands could be taken away from family ranchers who have, in some cases, held leases since before the creation of the Forest Service.

We know it’s going to be prohibitively expensive to manage these lands as a state. But that gives us a peek into the real motivation behind this push: Selling off your and my birthright to our public lands.

This proposal is brought by the people who have consistently tried to undermine our access to streams, rivers and the lands they now want as their own. It would cause the largest growth in state government in the modern era, raise taxes on all Montanans to pay for the management of these lands with fewer benefits to the citizens and ultimately, when their boondoggle fails, will result in the selling off our public lands.

Hypocritical arguments

Ironically, many of the people behind this ill-conceived idea are the same ones who supported a bill last session that would have restricted the ability of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to purchase lands (in excess of five acres) that would have resulted in any net gain of land owned by the state (Senate Bill 237). So, one year ago the game was to ensure that the state could not acquire additional lands. And now, the same people want the state to take over 30 million new acres? Given the hypocrisy, can anyone doubt the underlying agenda?

In two terms in the Montana House, I’ve seen efforts by some Republicans to limit our right to access rivers and streams, even strip funding for access easements. This is the latest attempt to do special favors for special interests.

In the race to represent State Senate District 24, I am the only candidate who is clearly opposed to this ill-conceived proposal and committed to preserving our access to rivers, streams and public lands.

Mary McNally is a Billings Democrat.

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