Guest opinion: Montanans, unite to keep our public lands public

2014-07-09T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Montanans, unite to keep our public lands publicBy Gov. STEVE BULLOCK and U.S. Sen. JON TESTER The Billings Gazette

Montana’s public lands define our way of life.

It’s a father teaching his daughter how to fly fish. It’s a mother and her son climbing a peak in the Bitterroots.

It’s those memorable moments — and our very birthright as Montanans — that are at risk if those who seek to transfer the management of federal lands to states are allowed to succeed.

While “allowing states to manage the lands within their borders” may sound like an appealing idea, the real goal is a threat to our outdoor heritage.

Inevitable land sales

Montanans who believe in responsible governing and management of our state understand that the costs of managing an additional 30 million acres will leave the state with only one option: selling off our public lands to the highest bidder in order to pay to manage what’s left.

Imagine how many acres would be locked up if we were forced to sell the lands to wealthy out-of-state interests? Fences and “No Trespassing” signs would spring up overnight, barring access to anglers, hunters, mountain bikers, backpackers, and hikers.

Currently, more than 2,000 employees manage federal lands in the Montana region, at the cost of $200 million every year. Add to that the cost of fighting forest fires, which in recent years has totaled hundreds of millions of dollars, and the loss of $50 million every year to local communities in the form of Payment In Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools funding, and you can plainly see the added financial burden Montana would face.

While our state’s budget is in strong fiscal shape, we do not have the resources to take over management of these lands. Doing so would be cost-prohibitive, raise the tax burden on Montana families and send our budget deep into the red.

Narrow interest group

Montana was just named the most fiscally responsible state in the country; and jeopardizing our future prosperity in order to satisfy a narrow interest group that would prefer to see strip malls and condos along ridgelines and streams just doesn’t make sense.

This is the not the outdoor legacy we want to pass on to our kids and grandkids. We want them to experience landing their first trout, floating the Madison River, and horseback riding in the Crazy Mountains.

In order to ensure that we maintain our Montana way of life, let’s work together to keep our public lands public.

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

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