The House Natural Resources Committee voted last week on a series of bills, two of which dealt with public lands. The first piece was an outright transfer of federal lands. The second piece dealt with establishing a land management pilot program. I have said this before, and will say this again: I do not support selling and transferring ownership of Montana's public lands. Anyone who says otherwise, whether they are knowingly lying to promote themselves, or unaware of the actual votes, is wrong.
I was the only Republican to vote against my own party, against the former Committee Chairman Don Young of Alaska, on a bill that would transfer away ownership of two million acres of U.S. Forest Service land. To put that in perspective, 2 million acres is about the size of the Flathead National Forest or Lolo National Forest.
This is not the first time I've bucked the Republican Party on public lands, often putting me at odds with my own chairman. During my address to the Montana Legislature’s joint session last year, I promised that I would not tolerate the sale or transfer of public land, and promised that reforming our management practices remained a top priority.
That promise has guided every vote I’ve taken since coming to Congress. In May of last year, I voted against the GOP budget because it had a vaguely-written provision that could open the door to selling public lands. Then again in July, I voted in support of an amendment from my Democratic colleague in Colorado to bar public lands sales. I also crossed the aisle on multiple times to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This has often landed me in hot water, but my promise remains nonnegotiable.
Now there is no doubt we can manage our land better. When we have hundreds of thousands of acres of timber burn every year, and more lawyers than scientists in the woods because of litigation, there’s a problem. When we have entire areas of the Bitterroot blocked off from recreational access so families, persons with disabilities, and senior citizens can't enjoy our land, that's a problem.
The solution to better management is not getting rid of our public lands; it's getting more state and local stakeholders involved. That's what lead me to introduce and pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act last year and that’s exactly what the bill I voted for on Wednesday does. It would create a flexible pilot program that engages the public and can only be implemented if a state’s Governor chooses to do so.
Similar measures like Good Neighbor Authority, which allows the Forest Service to enter into agreements with states to perform forest management services on Forest Service lands, already passed Congress with the full bipartisan Montana delegation’s support. It is now public law and being utilized right now.
Considering the state of our public lands, we need more tools in the land management tool box to foster healthier forests and communities. Anyone who perpetuates the idea that Montanans are satisfied with the status quo, which produced some of the worst forest fires we have ever seen last year, is nothing short of delusional.
I stood before the people of Montana and said I would never sell, give away, or transfer your public lands. That still stands true today, and in perpetuity. I never have voted to give away, sell, or transfer your lands and I never will.