Guest opinion: Stand up for Montanans' access to public lands

2014-04-29T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Stand up for Montanans' access to public landsBy TONY SCHOONEN The Billings Gazette
April 29, 2014 12:00 am  • 

John Brenden (April 17 guest opinion) pretended to be a “friend” of public recreationists while promoting a Bureau of Land Management land exchange with his political supporters, the Wilks brothers.

Montana hunters and anglers who are familiar with Brenden’s attacks on the public estate in the Legislature have finally stopped laughing long enough to write a reply to his facetious concern for “hikers, campers, birdwatchers, anglers and on and on.”

Even as he writes for the Wilks brothers, (both of whom donated the legal maximum to his 2012 election campaign along with their wives), Sen. Brenden is busy in Helena chairing a committee that is intended to be the first step in a right-wing attempt to force the federal government to surrender our national forests and BLM lands to control of state government.

Brenden has spared no effort in the State Senate to prevent Fish, Wildlife and Parks from acquiring any more lands for public hunting access. His “no net gain” bills have infuriated hunters and anglers who must travel to Helena to oppose Brenden’s “friendship.” The harm Brenden has done to Montana hunters and anglers, and the greater harms he has attempted, would fill a book.

Some friend.

Yet, here he comes now to promote a land exchange. Anybody who takes a close look at the deal being offered to BLM by the Wilks brothers will quickly discover it is not what Brenden says it is. The road access into the Bullwhacker that Brenden claims is needed to create new access into those 50,000 acres of public land actually already exists. BLM need only declare the two-track road “open to the public” and make some reasonable improvements and that problem is solved without trading away the last public access to the second largest elk herd in Montana.

Contrary to Brenden’s claim, keeping the Durfee Hills in public ownership is very much about 4,000 elk owned by the people of Montana. And these elk are almost completely locked up inside the vast, new 199,200-acre empire created by the Wilks with the exception of public access by air to the Durfee Hills.

That access isn’t a lot, but it’s all we the people are ever going to have to those elk. That’s why more than 1,600 people signed the hunters’ petition to stop the land trade.

We hunters and anglers intend to leave the Wilks alone to manage their private property as they see fit. But we Montanans are not going to let Brenden and his billionaire friends tell us how to manage our public land.

In a larger view, this whole topic is about what the future of Montana outdoor recreation will be like when private estates are 10 times as large as today’s traditional ranches.

Brenden will never be on the side of the people when such decisions are made.

Tony Schoonen of Butte has worked for several years to secure public access to Bullwacker Road and is a volunteer for Public Lands/Water Access Association.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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