Montana Sportsmen Get Political Support on Public-Land Sales Issue

When people ask what I think is the greatest threat to America’s outdoors heritage, they’re usually surprised by my answer. It’s not the energy industry, climate change, or even the purchase of politics by big corporations.

It's a lack of citizenship. People don't vote, and they don't get involved. They just let things happen – then complain. The excuse you hear time and again: "My voice won't change anything."

Well, Montana sportsmen have just proved themselves the exception.

The runaway movement led by Western politicians to sell off our public lands came to a sudden halt in this state, thanks to vocal opposition from Montana sportsmen.

First, Montana's lone representative in Congress, Republican Ryan Zinke, broke with his party over support for the House budget resolution because it included an amendment that could lead to the sale of federally owned lands.

"In Montana, our land is our way of life," Zinke told the Great Falls Tribune.

“Our public lands support local economies and provide generations of Montanans with world-class opportunities in hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreation. And, our land provides us with vast natural resources and unrivaled energy potential.”

He added: “Montana is not for sale.”

Later in the week, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, vetoed a bill creating a task force to study transferring title of federal lands because he could smell a rat ready to start gnawing at the foundation of public outdoors sports.

“A careful reading of the bill…reveals that the transfer of public lands is still very much in the sights of the task force,” Bullock’s veto letter said. “My position on this issue is crystal clear: I do not support any effort that jeopardizes or calls into question the future of our public lands heritage.”

Look again at the statements by Zinke and Bullock:

Montana is not for sale.

I do not support any effort that jeopardizes or calls into question the future of our public lands heritage.

They read like bumper stickers put out by the sportsmen’s conservation groups that have been doing the work for the vast majority of hunters and anglers who don’t take the time to read about the issues, or even knock out a quick email to their politicians.

Groups like the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Theodore Roosevelt Conservationist Partnership have been doing great work on the front lines, representing sportsmen and all outdoors folk. But too often the outdoorsmen they represent don’t join in, often offering that cop-out: My voice won’t matter.

Montana sportsmen didn’t shirk their responsibility on this issue. And it shows.

When conservation groups informed them a few weeks ago that one of their U.S. senators, Republican Steve Daines, a cast a vote allowing a similar amendment to pass the Senate, they reacted.

“There was a lot of outrage by sportsmen here, and they really helped in our discussions with Zinke,” said Land Tawney, executive director of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Zinke’s action in the House was a 180-degree turn from typical reactions to sportsmen’s issues on Capitol Hill. Our issues get thrown aside in the drive for some larger goal. This time, a congressman actually said that fish, wildlife and sportsmen were more important than everything else in a bill.

And Bullock has laid down the law to a state Legislature that appears all too ready to sell off our outdoors heritage.

Politicians can’t make these decisions if sportsmen are not involved in the process.

The great privileges we’ve enjoyed on our national lands for generations have always come with a responsibility of stewardship. These days, that includes keeping abreast of the news and taking action.

It’s called citizenship.