Public Lands are Your Lands

It strikes many as odd and shortsighted that some ideological politicians are again pushing the tired mantra of selling off public lands

By Mike Jopek

With families and visitors in town, there are many people enjoying the great Montana outdoors. The Flathead Valley is a tourist destination and it’s easy to understand why businesses are supportive of public places.

We are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful areas of the nation. The water is still clean, the air pure and the public lands are mostly open and accessible.

A decade ago, former Gov. Judy Martz’ administration was in Whitefish touting a new approach to state public lands around Whitefish. Its goal included selling the most prized public assets that the people of the state own. By constitution these state public lands are held in trust for the people.

Luckily the people of Whitefish – led by current city councilor and then former mayor Andy Feury – had a different approach that included conservation, education and recreation. Since then many miles of public trails were built, development was removed from thousands of acres of public lands and public schools benefited from millions of dollars of new revenue.

Back in 2005, former state Sen. Dan Weinberg sponsored legislation that paved the way for a successful endeavor to conserve our greatest public assets around Whitefish Lake. Weinberg heard the economic needs of the area and locals who overwhelmingly favored preserving the great outdoors.

Today, retired forester and current Rep. Ed Lieser offers fresh leadership and stewardship for public places in the Beaver Lake, Spencer Mountain and Haskill Basin. With the leadership of people like Lieser, the Whitefish economy benefits greatly from public lands access.

It’s not hard to give thanks to leaders who worked hard over the decade to assure that the next generation benefits from the outdoors. But without a doubt, none of this conservation, recreation or education of public lands would have occurred without former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Schweitzer held steadfast to the belief that public lands are held in trust for the people. His conservation ethic protected not only places such as the North Fork but also kept nearly 13,000 acres of public lands in the north valley in public hands.

Luckily for local Montanans, leaders like Weinberg, Feury, Lieser and Schweitzer believed in keeping our greatest assets public. These four did not stand alone, as the majority of a community supported their efforts.

Even my relatives who swarmed into town recognize the glorious importance of public places such as Glacier National Park. These kinds of public places are the crown jewels of our nation. They must forever be held in the public trust to provide economic benefit for the entire valley and state.

Businesses such as Whitefish Mountain Resort would clearly be unable to properly operate if it were not for the generous federal leases that are available from the Flathead National Forest. From simple berry picking to abundant forestry and recreation, our public lands are the economic driver in the Flathead Valley.

It strikes many as odd and shortsighted that some ideological politicians are again pushing the tired mantra of selling off public lands. Luckily for Montana, Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock are providing clear leadership to assure that public lands remain in public hands.

Recently Tester and Bullock wrote, “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.”

Most Montanans will undoubtedly agree that we need leaders who work together and preserve our way of life. Our public lands, our access to stream and lakes as well as good timber management, and our constitutionally protected right to hunt and fish are values that we cherish dearly and must pass along to the next generation.

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