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Gianforte transition committee a warning on public lands access

 

Last updated 11/27/2020 at 10:32am



Last week, Montana hunters and anglers got our first sense of the direction that Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte wants to take public land, access to critical hunting and sport fishing habitat, state parks and Montana’s $7.1 billion recreation economy. Gianforte offered an unbalanced slate of names of those who will be advising him on new leadership for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Hunters and anglers in Montana better be prepared to speak up and act to protect our sporting heritage, quality of life and economy. If you hunt, fish, value wildlife, value access to public lands and state parks then you have an urgent interest in these developments. If you use Block Management for hunting access or use fishing access sites to access streams for recreation, you should pay attention to these appointments by the governor-elect.

If you are a landowner with wildlife then you have an interest in ensuring your property rights aren’t curtailed. If you are a business owner whose company is dependent on the hunting and fishing public then your investments are at risk from a potential anti-public lands agenda.

  The problem is this committee does not represent the public’s interest in fishing and hunting, the very public who pays license fees and federal excise taxes on their equipment purchases which pay for the operation of FWP. Outfitters who promote exclusive use of the public’s resources for their clients are dominantly represented. Politicians hostile to public access and public lands are included.

A minority of the appointees have some history of supporting the public’s interest in FWP but there is no one involved as an advocate without an economic interest in the activities of the agency. These are the public’s resources, the public’s valued opportunities, and we are paying the bills. Where is our representation?

What are legislators Scott Sales’ and Kerry Whites’ voting history on FWP issues of significant value such as Habitat Montana, fishing access, or non-resident hunting licenses? Fishing guides and hunting outfitters are well-represented by Cheryl Arnaud, Chuck Rein, and John Way but who represents the everyday person who fishes or hunts? Who represents the public lands recreationist?

There are numerous Montana-based, grassroots conservation groups, both statewide and local, who consistently engage in public issues and decision making for FWP and its commission. Many of us volunteer to mend fences, spray weeds, mark property boundaries and resolve landowner access issues, etc. Where is our representation?

Voices of Montana hunters and anglers must be heard in the Legislature, that much is clear. In fact, Montanans of all stripes value our public lands, waters and wildlife resources. It’s something that brings everyone together. It’s time for all of us to roll up and sleeves and increase our civic engagement with the Legislature and incoming governor. We have to step up for Montana wildlife, public land, conservation incentives and continued access to our hunting land and fishing waters.

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Chris Marchion is a member of the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame and board member of the Anaconda Sportsmen’s Club.

 
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