Guest opinion: Montana voters beware GOP's public land resolution

2014-08-03T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Montana voters beware GOP's public land resolutionJ.W. WESTMAN The Billings Gazette
August 03, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The political climate in this country has become so polarized that average people are being forced to choose sides within their own political parties. We have politicians who are no longer looking for solutions but instead looking for a fight.

A prime example is the recent decision by the Montana Republican Party to approve a resolution asking that the federal government turn over all federally managed public lands within Montana to the state. The resolution does not address how the state would pay for fire suppression, weed control or road maintenance on the new 31 million acres that would come under state control. Where will this money come from?

How is it that for years the Montana Republican Party Platform has called for "no net gain" in state land ownership, but now they want to add 31 million acres? Which 31 million acres of state land are they going to sell off so as not to increase state land ownership?

Public access in peril

Is the Republican Party willing to guarantee that this land can never be sold and that the public will have access in perpetuity to these acquired federal lands? Lacking that guarantee, let's look at the impacts to the public. How many Montanans hunt, fish, hike, ski, bike, camp, rock climb, bird watch, mushroom gather, and cut firewood on this 31 million acres of federally managed public lands in Montana? What happens to the people of Montana when the state has to sell or lease the lands to private entities who then close off access? Where are Montanans and out-of-state tourists supposed to recreate as this land is sold or leased to private entities?

What happens to our beautiful mountains when they are in private ownership and massive mining and timber harvests take place? What happens to our wildlife resources? What happens to our quality of life?

Montanans live here not because of the money but because of all the activities and beauty Montana has to offer. For those who proclaim the positive financial aspects of this resolution, we would ask at what cost? Have they considered the income loss from tourism alone?

The resolution says that Montana could do a better job of managing the forests and timber harvest. As long as the lands are in state ownership, they will face the same lawsuits that the feds face virtually every time they try to do a timber sale. Only when the property goes into private ownership does the regulatory process become much less stringent.

Has the Republican Party talked to the cattle industry about this proposal? The federal government charges under $2 per AUM (animal unit per month) for grazing on federal lands while Montana currently charges close to $10 per AUM for grazing on state lands. Will cattle producers support this increase?

Why is the Republican Party forcing Republican voters to choose between supporting the party and doing what is best for the Montana resident. This resolution will only widen the division between parties and individuals within parties. 

Political courage

Montana Sportsmen Alliance thanks Republican state Reps. Pat Connell, of Hamilton, and Steve Gibson, of East Helena, for their public opposition to this resolution, both at the Republican Convention and in the press. We realize how hard it is to be a minority within your own party and stand up in an attempt to do the right thing for the majority of the people of Montana, who according to a recent poll, oppose the land takeover by the state. Connell and Gibson need to be recognized for their efforts.

So now it is up to the voters of Montana, both Republicans and Democrats, to decide the future of Montana’s pristine beauty, abundant wildlife resources and currently impressive recreational opportunities. Will the voters stand up and be heard on this issue or will they just sit on the sidelines, only to complain later as the Montana heritage is lost.

J.W. Westman, of Park City, is a member of Montana Sportsmen Alliance Leadership Group. He collaborated on this guest opinion with several other group members, including Vito Quatraro, of Bozeman.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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