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Gazette opinion: Masks on federal lands? Within reason

Gazette opinion: Masks on federal lands? Within reason

Pryor Mountains

The Pryor Mountains include land managed by three federal agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and National Park Service.

In Montana, President Biden’s mask mandate for federal lands and properties has evoked skeptical questions about hunting, cross-country skiing, hiking and other activities on federal lands.

It’s tempting to laugh at government overreach, with images of a masked cowboy herding cattle, a masked-up BLM worker fixing fence in the middle of nowhere, or face-covered cross-country skiers with nothing but jackrabbits for company.

But it’s less silly when one thinks of two or three federal employees driving together for long distances across federal lands on the job, which happens a lot. Say one of those people is an anti-masker. Should the others in the car be subjected to his anti-mask respiratory droplets?

Federal property isn’t all wide-open spaces, and even though a lot of it here in the west is exactly that. If there’s a conference at the U.S. Forest Service office in White Sulphur Springs, or the one in Dillon, should people protect others and themselves be protected? We think the answer is yes.

While the mandate admittedly probably wasn’t promulgated with the vast federal lands of the west in mind, we believe Western common sense will prevail. Mask up when you’re in close proximity to others, whether the land you’re on is federal, state or private.

When most of us get out into BLM or National Forest land, we’re too excited to be out of doors in Montana to be much worried about any federal regulations. But when we’re huffing up a trail and pass someone, we’re going to mask up, out of courtesy.

We do not believe mask mandates are tyrannical or freedom-robbing. We do believe common sense and common courtesy — and that oft-cited “personal responsibility” — should be enough to correctly modify most personal behavior. And we don’t believe that wearing a mask to protect yourself and those near to you is too much to ask. On federal land or not.

The Billings Gazette Editorial Board consists of President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.


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